When Everything You Do is Never Done

Yesterday I went little nuts at work. The frustration got to me. My office mate heard my sigh and recognized it for what it was. “Feel like you’ve been working every minute since you arrived and haven’t accomplished anything?” she asked.

Oh yeah. That’s it. That’s absolutely it.

The problem isn’t that I don’t work smart or manage my minutes. I’m not a time waster, an enabler or a poor delegator. I’ve read the books, the blogs and the bulletins on how to be an effective manager. None of that is the problem.

The problem is that I work with people.

Most of the work I’ve done in life has been with people.The serious drawback to that (what they don’t tell you in school) is that people are never “done”.

I’ve chosen to invest the lion’s share of my energies in other people’s lives through mothering, teaching, counseling, coaching and mentoring. I love it. It’s what I was designed to do. But there are moments when I long to produce something that I can point to and say “There. It’s finished. I did that.”

But people can never be my accomplishments – even my own children. Whatever contribution I make to another person’s life becomes, quite rightly, absorbed into the fabric of their being and what they do with my contribution is their choice. Even though I work with people, it would be the ultimate betrayal of that work and a grave disrespect to them to see people as my projects or the outcome of my efforts.

Even the physical labor accomplishments of my days are short-lived. Housework is done today and un-done, well, usually on the same day. Meals are prepared and consumed and hours later there is need of another meal. One machine at the gym is repaired and moments later, another one is down. The brilliant bulletin board encouraging New Year’s workout resolutions is yesterday’s news. Time to do one on battling winter blues but I’d better get it up before it’s time to advertise spring classes to prepare for summer bathing suit season! Aaahhh!

Even in writing, I strive for that sense of accomplishment. I thought it would happen when I published something locally. Then, I thought I would feel it when I was published nationally. Then, I thought perhaps when I’d made a certain amount of money for an article. Now, I think maybe if I publish a book? But the older I get the more I realize that a sense of accomplishment can be an elusive thing.

Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the source of this drive for accomplishment.

This isn’t a blog post about something I’ve figured out and how now I’m ready to share my great wisdom. This is a post about a real struggle with me.

As a Christian, I believe the investment of my life should be in loving God and loving others but in the ways I’ve chosen to do that, I often wrestle with a lack of feeling accomplished. So, I wonder about the whole drive for accomplishment – where it comes from, how it’s measured. I know the answer to how God measures my accomplishment is in scripture but there seem to be a lot of ways to go with that one.

In Mark 12, Jesus sums up the scriptures with these two commands “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” And “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the place I start and where I return all the time to understand God’s measure of my life.

Do I care if others see me as an accomplished person or recognize my accomplishments? Honestly, yes, sure. Remember me? I invest in people so what people think does matter to me. But what I really desire more is to feel accomplished at the end of the day. And, I want to feel God’s pleasure in how I’ve spent my time.

So, I’m exploring this issue with God and wrestling with it myself. The definition of “accomplish” is “to bring about by effort, to bring to completion, to succeed in reaching”. How does a person sold out for Christ measure accomplishment at the end of the day – in things small and things great?

I take great comfort lately from a verse in Psalm 138:8 that says “The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O LORD, endures forever— do not abandon the works of your hands.” I trust God’s ability to accomplish, to see things through, to bring His work to completion – even me.

Maybe I’m being too vulnerable here but it’s a recurring struggle in my life.

What do you think? Do any of you wrestle with this? Am I alone here? How do you measure accomplishment? From where do you derive a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day? What advice do you have for me in this? What questions would you add to the discussion?

Get in on the conversation

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

23 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. Cheri says:

    Beautifully transparent post, Lori. I believe we all struggle with this issue – at least I know I do. We were created for relationship and service, yet how do we know when we’ve done what we are supposed to do? For me, it goes back to the very scriptures you shared – have I loved God with all my heart, all my soul, and all my mind, all my strength, and have I loved others as myself? Sometimes I can answer that question “yes,” and sometimes not. When I can, I may or may not feel a bit of encouragement or satisfaction in a job well done. And even when I do feel as if I accomplished something, the feeling is short-lived; there is always something else on my plate.

    And as you said, we deal with people. They are free to appreciate or toss aside our contributions to their lives. It comes down, again for me, to knowing if I am doing what I do for man’s approval or for God’s. We will stand before an Audience of One on Judgment Day; we should live before that same audience while here. Just my humble opinion.

    Love and hugs,
    Cheri

    PS – In my book, you are accomplishing much! This blog alone reaches many, many people and nourishes their spiritual growth. And this blog is only a fraction of what you do.

    PPS – One more thought. When we are working with people, it’s a lot like potting plants. Sometimes the plant’s growth is very visible and beautiful, makes the gardner gasp with pride. Other times, the growth is under the dirt, in the roots. We can’t see it happening, but it’s there. Hopefully, we don’t toss the plant in the trash and consider ourselves failures; rather we continue to water, feed, and hope to see a new shoot on the surface. It’s a cycle of sorts.

  2. Thanks, Cheri. Although I fear this post was more “frighteningly” transparent than beautifully. I struggle less with others noticing what I’ve accomplished than with actually feeling accomplished at the end of the day. I wonder how much of it has to do with transitioning from full-time homeschooling mom to mother of college age kids working part-time. I’ve got one foot still planted at home and the other venturing in other directions. More time with God is usually the answer to all of my issues but wondered how others wrestle this one through.

    (BTW, thank you for the encouragement about the blog!)

  3. Phoenix says:

    Well. I’ve lived your post and you’re right. When in the loving people business the work is never done and there is no ‘human’ measure. There are successes and there are disappointments for sure though. I think it is the successes when we know that God has been working through us to touch lives and we SEE it happening that we feel the most satisfaction.

    I will warn you though, and I’m sure you know. That being in the murky waters of relationships trying to find and keep healthy boundaries IS the TEST. Relationship work is like abstract art.. sometimes we can see the lines and sometimes not.

    I made a trip to the ER today to get checked out because quite frankly I was really tired and getting weak. My health and bloodwork were PERFECT.. but it is clear that a good REST is due.

    I think the key for me is to learn to walk a little slower and listen a little closer?.. Anyway.. just walking in step with DAD and keeping good priorities and boundaries is def where it is at! There ARE so many needs, but we have to care for ourselves as well!

  4. Thanks for that, Phoenix! I love that line that “relationship work is like abstract art.”! I do think I’m overtired right now. Almost thought of doing what you did and getting some blood work but realized I just maybe need a day of rest – a Sabbath – just to chill.

  5. Cheri says:

    Lori,

    It’s not frightening, because when you share your own self-doubts aloud, there are always ten other people struggling in the same way, afraid to open their mouths. That’s what makes it beautiful… they are encouraged and they know they are not weird or alone.

    I would venture to say that much of what you are feeling is rooted in the transition to the “empty nest.” Homeschool moms rarely have time to think of anything else except getting those kids educated properly; when we are suddenly free to think outside the box of education again, we aren’t always sure what we should think about! Or how we should be using this massive amount of extra time that we now have.

    More time with God is always a good thing, and I pray He will begin to whisper new directions in your ear, new adventures with Him!

    Blessings, dear one,
    Cheri

  6. Thanks, Cheri! Looking forward to the long walk we’re going to have one day when this is all behind us!

  7. You know what I’ve been trying to do lately? Just exist… focusing on Him and trusting that He will work through me each day as He wills. Otherwise, there are just too many decisions every day; too many things we could do but never know if it’s worthwhile or a waste of time and effort. It’s the days when I wake up determined not to manage my own time and say, “What do you want me to do with this day, Lord?” that I look back on at night and feel completely at peace with. But if I let life take over, pay too much attention to that to-do list, I become overwhelmed and feel like I’m spinning my wheels. I figure He knows all that I’m responsible for here and He knows the best way of working it all out. Why not let Him organize my time and walk me through it all?

    I just finished reading “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” by Phillip Keller. It’s my second time through and I’m ready to read it all over again. It’s a fantastic realization of what we sheep are to our Shepherd and what He is to us. Puts life in perspective!

    Wish we could go out for coffee. That’s one thing I know would be worthwhile! 🙂

  8. Yeah, that’s it. I need to get to that place again. I had it when I was focused on raising kids and homeschooling. I think this transition period where I’m still homeschooling, working part-time and writing is doing a number on me. Time to sort it out with Go. That book looks great. I’ll have to look into it!

  9. Don’t you hate it when you’re in that great place and then all of a sudden you realize you slipped out of it? Drives me nuts! And yet, I do it again and again. I long to be in the right place and make it stick!

    And yes, get the book. It’s fantastic!

  10. Just requested it from our library. I remember that when Zack was a boy it used to frustrate me that he ALWAYS woke up with an agenda for his day and it NEVER took into consideration schoolwork or what I may have planned for him. God thumped me on the head many times to remind me that He gets frustrated about the same issue with ME! I guess that’s why I’m curious as to how other people measure accomplishment at the end of the day. It can be all about getting through the to-do list – we have to leave room for divine appointments. So how do people find that peace – is it a feeling or a decision?

  11. I think the decision is in the determination to put things in the Lord’s hands and leave them there. The peace comes from that. I’ve been practicing that lately. I remember something on my to-do list and start to get uptight about how to fit it in, and then I have to stop myself and give it over to the Lord. Then I make a decision to just move on, determined to leave it with Him. (of course I need His help even to do that!)The main thing there is trusting that He will deal with it in the best way with perfect timing. Whether it’s cleaning the house or writing a novel – He’s always got the best way to do it. And I’m always amazed at how much He cares about every last little thing!

  12. Sounds like a plan. Resting in Him. That’s where I need to dwell – in His rest.

  13. Andrea says:

    Struggling with you, Lori!! and today…actually the last few days have been real struggles.
    Hugs, andrea

  14. Anonymous says:

    Like you I DO struggle with accomplishment – particularlly at this point in life but one thing I have discovered is that the accomplshments of pleasing God and hearing the words “well done good and faithful servant” are fulfilling. There is no greater accomplishment than to please the God of the Universe and hear His resounding compliment of acceptance when I stand before Him.

    Angel

  15. You are in my prayers, Andrea!

  16. Thanks for being open, Angel. I heartily agree with what you’ve shared!

  17. Mike W. says:

    I don’t think most things we do in life are “accomplished” until we have “lived” — in the past tense, with no hope of continuing in this life.

    In my 9-to-5 world, most of my jobs have always been much more task-oriented than people-oriented. While those things can be “done” at the end of the day/week/project/quarter/year, they start up again — like the dishes, laundry, lawn (yes,this wretchedly long winter will also be “done”, giving way to spring and summer and having to cut the grass again and again and again).

    I’m reminded of sermons where, when certain words are dissected in their original Greek meaning, it is as something that is ongoing, not a final thought or statement…maybe in the working out of our salvation (?).

    Anyway, it’s probably a good thing, at the end of the day, that things aren’t completely, totally, finished — because we aren’t…and God, thankfully, isn’t done with us.

    Now, onto the e-mails from our suppliers in Asia, where it’s tomorrow, today…

  18. I love the Greek word perspective, Mike. Goes along with God’s name “I am” – His name is a verb. I think I keep trying to be a noun and I need to be more like Him.

  19. Lori, I love reading your blog and this one makes me feel no different. I usually hesitate to comment since I’m writing to a WRITER! Today I just had to write since I want to say AMEN, sister, I hear you. Being in the people business is an amazing adventure but it’s NEVER done. I have so many layers of people in my business that my head just swims around and around most days. Having been in the empty nest stage a while, I can say that it was a HUGE adjustment for me. Lots of self-reflection and most days, upon reflection, I would think to myself there were just so many things I would have done differently……then praying to the Lord and His answer was you’re battling the “other world”…..turn to me and find your rest. I did and it was wonderful.

    Now back to my people business. I feel accomplished when, at the end of the day, I can reflect with the Lord and say that for most of the time I listened to the Holy Spirit and reacted in a way that was Christlike….the Holy Spirit is so wonderful, His work is so amazing….the more I listen to Him, the more I learn……I guess you can teach an “old” dog new tricks!

    Love you, Lori. Thank you for this blog….it’s such an encouragement to me.
    Cheryl

  20. Cheryl, Thank you so much for this! I’m realizing through this conversation how much has to do with my conversion from mother/homeschooler to whatever comes next. I trusted my days to the Lord as a mother and I need to learn to do that now with work and writing. It’s like having been a runner and now learning how to swim – I just have to remember that some of the old training techniques still apply even in a new setting. Thanks!

  21. Cheri says:

    When I read your last comment, Lori, I had to stop and wonder why my transition from mother/homeschooler wasn’t more tough. Then it hit me – my son got in trouble with drugs the year after he graduated from high school (homeschooled), and we spent that entire year going back and forth to Teen Challenge during his recovery. I was still homeschooling the two girls, but life was anything but the “normal” routine it had been before. So in reality, I’ve been “transitioning” for the past three and a half/four years, and the “transition process” has actually become “normal” for me.

    I wake up with my own thoughts as to what I will do each day, but I am open to God making changes. If a phone call or two eat up two hours of my writing time, and I realize that it was ministry, I am content, because I know it was God arranging a divine appointment. If the phone doesn’t ring and I write all day, I realize that that was God’s plan for me that day and we were on the same page. I try to go with the flow and see God’s hand in whatever comes or doesn’t come, if that makes sense.

    Thanks for opening this topic for discussion! Very therapeutic!

    Hugs,
    Cheri

  22. This whole discussion was therapeutic for me, as well. I realized through it that for years as I was full-time homeschool momming, I was very clear on where God wanted me and so my sense of “accomplishment” at the end of the day came from doing that – no matter what anyone else thought or what it looked like. Now that I’m transitioning from full-time mom to part-time work and writing and “some-time mom”, I need to refresh my understanding of what God’s current priorities are for me and rest in those at the days’ end. Thank you, everyone, for your kind words, counsel and testimonies! You’ve been a blessing to me as I work through this issue this week.

  23. I can so relate to the need for significance! One of the very sinful ways I respond to that is a self-protective refusal to invest myself in others, or in any form of work that feels pointless (like housework). But if I’m not investing myself, not loving, then I am just clanging cymbals. God is trying to get it through my head that I am to love Him with all my being, and to love my neighbor as myself. But I’m a really slow learner…
    Thanks for sharing your heart.