Summary: We start the new year thinking it will be much like the last and that we will not finish all those things we have started. But there is more beauty in being unfinished than in being complete; for in Christ we can grow and become what He wants us to be.
Takoma Park Baptist Church, Washington, DC December 29, 1985
I have told you before, I believe, that I am an inveterate list-maker. I believe I have mentioned that my way of working and of setting daily work priorities is to build lists, long, elaborate, detailed lists of things to de today, things to do tomorrow, things to do yesterday, things to do at home, things to do for the Convention, things to do for the church, things to do for the sake of doing them, things not to do, and so on and so on. I make lists.
And at this time of the year one of the things that appears on my lists is the job of revising the lists! It's time to review what has been accomplished and set out some goals and priorities for the coming year. That task I have already begun, and woe is me, I find that this coming year's list looks longer than last year's list. How could that be? How in the world could that happen? How could it be that in twelve months I seem to have been losing ground instead of gaining it? How is it possible that in the struggle to get it all done, not only is it not all done but there seems to be more of it to do?
Well, I suspect you know the answer to that. Every one of you who has any sense of direction and of industry and of movement knows what I am talking about. The more you do, the more you see that needs to be done. The harder you work the more there is that really ought to grab hold of your attention. And so it is true, as the saying has it, that if you want a big job done, ask a busy person to do it. Some of us are just so constructed that we keep taking things on and adding to our lists, and there is always more to do.
That's not the problem, really. The problem is not the jobs that keep raising their heads and crying out to be done. The problem is the ones I started but never finished. What plagues me more than anything else is the project I started on in a burst of energy and creativity, but which bogged down somewhere along the way and which remains unfinished. Are you with me? Anybody else out there who lives this way?
Well, come over to my house and I can show you a whole museum of unfinished tasks, items which I began, began in dead earnest and carried forward well, but which now lie incomplete. Maybe it's money, maybe it's lack of materials, maybe it's uncertainty about the next step, but there they are -- unfinished, silently accusing me every day of being lazy and fickle and well, unfinished.
Would you believe, for example, kitchen cabinets which I built but they still have no doors and no stain? Or how about a set of cabinets and a counter without a countertop? Or a range installation during which I had to remove some paneling and some molding; the range is in, the panel and the molding are not. Or again, I'd be ashamed to tell you haw many months it has been since I undertook to finish a basement room, got everything done but the ceiling, and came to an abrupt halt when I found out how tough it is to work with drywall ceilings as the rank amateur that I am. Time fails to tell you of my library, partly catalogued; of my files, partly sorted; of my periodicals, partly read; of my stamp collection, partly mounted. In fact, it would not surprise you much at all, would it, if I were to stop right here and tell you that I didn't have time to finish this sermon!
Perhaps my own case is extreme – and I am confident you do not want or need to hear more about my shortcomings – but I suspect that many of us feel plagued by unfinished tasks. There are so many things we are meaning to get around to, so many tasks we have every intention of finishing. I believe this is true of many of us; my evidence is that you can find circulating here and there an object that looks like a coin, it's about the size of a silver dollar, and it has inscribed on it the letters T U I T. What is it? Why, it's a round tuit – and it's circulating because everybody, just about everybody, is saying, I'll do that job whenever I can get a round tuit. Unfinished tasks; they plague us all.
But I'm wondering this morning whether you’ve ever thought of the incompleteness of your life as an opportunity more than as a burden? Have you ever supposed that sometimes what you do is greater and finer in its incompleteness than if it were all wrapped up and polished off? That may sound peculiar, but I believe it's true. There are times when there is more virtue, more power, more beauty in the task unfinished than in the task completed, packaged, wrapped up and put away.