“So tell me everything you would like to do this afternoon,” I say, pulling a capless pen from the chipped bisque mug on the desk, sliding a notepad in front of me. Pansies float around the edge of the paper. The impressions of Adam’s carb counts from breakfast dent the blank top page, making a ghost of him, hovering there gripping maybe the same struggling pen, backlit maybe, by the first light of morning. But it’s mid-afternoon and the sun dips now into late, burnished and mature, and this is just a memory.
Riley starts listing. “Well, I’m going to clean out my lunch box, and then I’m going to get the mail, and then I’ll have a snack.”
She smiles, watching me the write the words—“lunch box,” “mail,” snack”— listwise on the paper. There’s something about acknowledgment–such a simple, easy thing–the makes all of us feel better.
“And then,” she says, joy simmering, “I am going to take a shower. And then, I need to work on cards. And then I need to do my chores. And then I need to work on my planner.” We are, right now, working on her planner, but it’s pointless to interject, and I can’t help but smile too, at another hovering impression. Commit your actions to the Lord, Word says, and your plans will succeed (Proverbs 16:3). In the morning, I walk and pray beneath all those bald, reaching trees–some still shedding their skin in curls, thinking this is what we do when life goes stark: we reach. Right there beneath all those lifted wooden arms, I tell God all the things I’d like to do for him—lists too helplessly bulky for the hours. “And then I need to, and then I want to, and then could I,” I say, smiling just because He hears me, just because he delights to know. “The Lord directs the steps of the Godly,” the Psalmist penned, “He delights in every detail of their lives (Psalm 37:23).”
Riley and I do this every day now, sitting in the life-curved chairs at our history-glittered table because she’s trying to learn to manage her time, and I guess I do this every single day with God because, after all these years, I’m still learning to let God manage mine. It’s always so much better when He does, as His heart stretches wider and His eyes see so much further than my own.
Riley’s list fills the short sheet in front of me, and she only has roughly four hours left for work. She’s probably the most diligent, thorough, happy worker I know, and I delight in her desire to do and to do well. Finishing is her only recognized boundary, and always with a heart for more—to do more, to help more, but at the cost of sufficient, critical rest. In this way, ours is the same affliction.
I scan the list, looking for things to eliminate and for ways to help her define endpoints that will allow her to make progress on more projects in a shorter amount of time.
“Well, you don’t need to get the mail, because I already did that.” I draw a line through the word “mail.” “And cleaning out your lunch box is something you should finish in 5 minutes.” I sketch out a 5 beside that entry, handling her willingness, her hopefulness, gently with my fingers. “And I think it’s reasonable to allow 20 minutes for your snack if you don’t get distracted by your phone. Save the phone for your free time, okay?”
“Mmhm,” she says readily, happy for the guidance. For Riley, needing help is neither a weakness nor a shame, but merely a natural part of life: We help, and we are helped, and such is the way of love.
So in just this way, my daughter entrusts and listens as I slide my finger down her wish list, creating boundaries and freedom in much the way the Spirit does for me when I pray over my day. When I finish, Riley smiles and nods, tearing the sheet from the notepad, studying it like a map. She will follow, will follow me and this path I’ve carved for her, without question. And again, I think of me and God, of the way I can ask so carefully sometimes and then forget to listen. Or I walk away from those trees where the cardinals perch like red blooms and edit what He said because it’s not exactly what I wanted. In this, then–this simple, radical trust, this handing over her plans, she teaches me to entrust my life.