What To Do When Overwhelmed
Today I am overwhelmed. My unplugged laptop had been set aside to fix another cup of coffee, water some plants, start and fold some laundry, and when I came back it said in red letters, “Battery dangerously low 6%.” Precisely how I feel today. And it’s only 9 a.m.
I used to think being overwhelmed was a result of having children who needed me every hour of every day, but now that they aren’t here I have learned it’s a function of my life, not specific circumstances. It’s late spring and I see the windows all coated with a fine layer of pollen and dust and I think, I’ve got to get them cleaned. Friends are coming for dinner tonight and I’ve got to get the house cleaned and everything ready before I have to leave at noon.
A long list of action verbs rattles in my brain along with a sense of panic that it won’t get done, that I’ll forget something important and that by the time our friends arrive I’ll be too exhausted to contribute to an interesting conversation. I have visual reminders everywhere telling me I’m behind, barely keeping up the minimum. Like the old wooden frame with beveled mirror that I rescued from the barn at my mother’s farm. It is a beautifully shaped oval with a carved filigree top that simply needs the joints re-glued. But I’ve had it in our back room since October! Every time I walk past it I’m reminded that I can’t manage to finish even simple things!
Extra hours in the day wouldn’t fix my problem though it sounds like a wonderful solution to me. It’s much deeper.
My husband used to try and help me with statements like, “It’ll work out,” or “It’s not that important,” or “You should trust God with it.” Infuriated was usually how I felt with his “help.” Not that what he said wasn’t true or that he didn’t really care, it’s that I wanted to be rescued or saved from the disaster around me by him becoming my servant, like a fairy godmother. I wanted him to work a miracle and make it all go away. Never a conscious thought, mind you, but my heart wanted that. “Don’t tell me the truth, just fix it for me.”
Like Pavlov’s dog, though a much slower learner than he, I’ve learned a few things about this frequent state of being, called I’m overwhelmed, that most women experience. Hear me. I’ve learned a few things. I have not mastered it.
First, though it was very hard to admit, I learned my husband was right. Everything does not have equal importance. As Jesus said to Martha, and I am a Martha, only a few things really matter.
Second, to say I do not have time (for a task or a relationship) is not a fact but a statement of value. I do what I value. Everyone does. However, I’ve also learned my sense of value might be wrong. How many of my tasks or duties are secretly chosen because I hope to receive praise or be noticed or earn “Best mother of the decade” award? Though I do it subtly, of course, often unaware of my motive because to look within is to see pride. I sure don’t want to be like the Pharisees in Jesus day who prayed out loud in public so others would be impressed. But I’m not that obnoxiously obvious.
Third, I do need to feed my soul to keep balance in my life. For decades I didn’t even know what that meant. I did Bible study and quiet times more out of duty than relationship. But rescuing the old wooden frame is a picture of soul food. I brought that broken shape home for many reasons. It reminded me of slower days, it is a link to past generations, and it inspired me to do something creative with my time when so much of my work is ordinary and boring.
And that is the way it is for most of us women. I have learned that creating feeds my soul as much as prayer and Bible reading does. I need both. Redeeming an old broken frame links me to the redemptive work of God and gives meaning to my life.
Fourth, and I know this sounds too predictable, but I am praying more. Actually I’m listening more, not demanding God fix or give me solutions. There is a big difference. In my 30s and 40s I often felt desperate because of the workload of six kids and my prayers reflected my personal drama. But now my prayers are much more submissive to His greater will and desires for me. I know he uses difficulty for great good so rather than asking to be delivered I am asking to learn in the hard places. I’m talking and listening as I’m working, driving, moving instead of trying harder and feeling like it all depends on me.
Last, I’m learning that how I respond is what matters most to God. As I prayed for wisdom, said I wanted to learn, asked for guidance and more, I decided not to vacuum the entire downstairs before our guests arrived, but instead swept up only a few places where tread shaped dirt landed from the crevices of shoes. I didn’t obsess, but did what was necessary and left the rest knowing it’s the people and our relationship that matters.
When I was a baby Christian I wrote a quote in my Bible: “God will not do by a miracle what we can do by obedience.” I remembered it as I was driving to my meetings at noon. Yes, even being overwhelmed can be used for great good by the King who always desires to work good in my soul.