Category Archives: personal

3 things to do if you’re feeling overwhelmed

Apparently, the last post (“9 signs you may be at your limit”) struck a chord with a lot of people. I think many of us felt at least a few of the indicators, and have felt that the way we’re doing life right now isn’t the way we’d like to do things for the rest of our lives — nor would it be sustainable.

Question markThe next big question that several people asked was: “What can we do about it?”

Here are some ideas (learned from others!):

1. Audit your time. Many of us feel overwhelmed but can’t place our finger on exactly why — we might point to something broad like “Work’s a lot right now,” or “There are too many people to try to catch up with.” A helpful exercise — one taught me by my brother Clem — is to actually sit down and look at how you spend your time. You may discover, as Clem did when he did this a number of years ago, that you’re trying to pack too many things into a finite number of hours. So consider:

  • How much time does work take?
  • How much time do you have after that?
  • How much time do you spend watching Netflix or TV shows?
  • How much time do you have to recharge your batteries?
  • How much time do you give to your family?
  • How much time do you spend with God?

2. Differentiate between a busy season and a busy lifestyle. This is something my counselor mentioned to me, and I found it a really helpful distinction. Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us there’s a time for everything, but it can be hard for us to discern whether we’re ‘just’ in the middle of a particularly busy season of life or whether we’re living in an unsustainably busy way.

Snow on the doorknobOne question to ask yourself is, “Is there a discernible end to this season?” Christmas and Easter are particularly busy times of year for me, but I know that once those days pass, things will calm down (a little). Just as there are signs when seasons change (like, for instance, oh … the snow stopping when it’s time for spring), busy seasons should have clear indicators of when they’re ending.

However, if you’re thinking that your busy seasons just keep following one another, you’re probably living in the Southern California of life — where there’s only one season, and it’s busy. And if it’s unsustainably and unhealthily busy, you may need to re-prioritize and practice saying no (even, and especially, to good things).

3. Establish healthy rhythms of life, building in time for things that give you joy. Whether you’re currently in a busy season or engaging in an unsustainably busy lifestyle, there are some helpful rhythms to practice to move toward a healthier, fuller way of living. Ruth Haley Barton lists a few in Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership:

  • Work and rest. Learning how to sabbath is key to counter the workaholic busyness of our culture without descending into laziness; and if you’re in this for the long haul, learning to rest is indispensable. (Click here for more on sabbath: “In the beginning … rest.“)
  • Engagement and retreat. There are times when we press forward, starting new initiatives, beginning new projects, taking on the challenges of life and work in a broken world; and then there are times when we step back in order to recover, to recuperate, to heal the wounds caused by those challenges of life and work in a broken world. Remember that the weight of the world does not weigh on your shoulders; remember that God is at work — he was long before you came onto the scene and he will be long after you’re gone.
  • Silence and word, stillness and action. “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,” reads Proverbs 10:19 (which Ruth quotes). Too often we jump straight into sharing our thoughts or leaping into action without first being silent and still before God to hear what he might want for us, or even to figure out what we really think or want to do. Should I engage in this new venture? Should I say yes to this possibility? Should I voice my opinion or say what I think? Learning to live out of a deep reservoir usually involves pressing pause before pressing play.
  • Self-knowledge and self-examination. It can be tempting to think that once we’ve taken enough tests (Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, Strengths Finder, etc.), we can just rely on our instincts or our understanding of who we (think we) are. But the call of Jesus is constant and continual discipleship, learning and relearning how to do life with God. Psalm 139:23-24 should be a constant refrain in our lives: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
  • Finding a way of life together. Our inclination is to be self-sufficient, to find more and more ways not to need others (buy all your own stuff, have your own back yard, etc.) but the way of Jesus is one in which we do life in community. If you aren’t already, find a local church to plug in to, join a small group, cultivate connections in which you give life to others and others give life to you.  Don’t lone-wolf this. (Yes, I made that a verb.)

Life is constantly changing — new technologies (or TV shows) to distract us; old friendships fading away, new friendships popping up; quitting a job, finding a job; finding new hobbies, forgetting to make time for old hobbies; families growing and shrinking.

Listen to the words of Jesus:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

This is our God. This is the life he invites us into.

There isn’t a formula that allows us to plug in certain data and come up with the secret to good living — but part of what makes life worth living is the sometimes-arduous, never-boring, ultimately-rewarding process of becoming the kind of people who are actively seeking to live as God would have wanted us to live; the journey of learning how to be more like Jesus; and the privilege of having the Spirit of God help us do that with peace in the busyness, with joy in the brokenness, with hope in the pessimism, and with focus in the anxiety and freneticism and stress.

“Take heart,” Jesus says, “for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

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9 signs you may be at your limit

I came across this list a couple months ago, when a friend mentioned it in his sermon, and I was hooked. Convicted. Guilty as charged.

It made me realize that I had allowed myself to slide back into a life of ‘productive’ busyness, where I tended to react to things rather than thoughtfully respond, and so I began to  rebuild some healthy structures and rhythms back into my life.

It’s written specifically for folks in ministry but I think it applies just as much to others.

From Ruth Haley Barton’s book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership (104-105):

  1. Irritability or hypersensitivity. Things that wouldn’t normally bother us (such as a child’s mistake, another driver cutting us off in traffic or a coworker’s irritating habit) put us over the edge. We may or may not express our rage outwardly, but inwardly we are aware of reactions that are all out of proportion to the event itself.
  2. Restlessness. During waking hours we might be aware of a vague sense that something is not quite right or an even stronger feeling of wanting to bolt from our life. When it is time to rest, we might find ourselves unable to settle down and sit quietly or fall asleep. Because we are overstimulated, our sleep may be broken, marred by too much mental activity or disturbing dreams.
  3. Compulsive overworking. “Overwork is this decade’s cocaine, the problem without a name,” says Bryan Robinson, who has written widely about the phenomenon and estimates that as many as 25 percent of Americans have this addiction. “Workaholism is an obsessive-compulsive disorder,” he writes, “that manifests itself through self-imposed demands, an inability to regulate work habits, and an overindulgence in work — to the exclusion of most other life activities.” This compulsive behavior can also manifest itself in a frenetic quality to our work. We might find that we are unable to stop or slow down even when that would be appropriate — like at night after dinner or on vacation. A compulsive leader is one who — for some reason that he or she cannot quite name — has no boundaries on work, checks e-mail late into the evening, and is unable to unplug completely to go on vacation, to enter into solitude or to spend uninterrupted time with family.
  4. Emotional numbness. When we are pushing our limit, we may notice that we can’t feel anything — good or bad. It takes energy to experience and process a full range of human emotion. When we are “at capacity” we literally do not have the energy to engage the full range of human experience, including our emotions. In addition, we might be afraid that if we did stop and experience our emotions we would be overwhelmed, and who has time for that?
  5. Escapist behaviors. When we do have a break in the action, we might notice that increasingly we are succumbing to escapist behaviors (such as compulsive eating, drinking or other substance abuse, spending, television, pornography, surfing the Internet) and don’t have the energy to choose activities that are life-giving (such as exercising, going for a walk or bike ride, connect meaningfully with friends and family, enjoying a hobby or interest like playing an instrument, cooking, painting, drawing, writing poetry, playing sports, working with our hands, reading a good book). This becomes a vicious cycle, because escapist behaviors actually drain energy from us — energy that we could use to make life-giving choices — and then we just get more and more lethargic.
  6. Disconnected from our identity and calling. More and more we find ourselves going through the motions of doing ministry but disconnected from a true sense of who we are and what God is calling us to do. Increasingly, we find that we are at the mercy of other people’s expectations and our own inner compulsions because we lack an internal plumb line against which to measure these demands.
  7. Not able to attend to human needs. We don’t have time to take care of basic human needs such as exercise, eating right, sleeping enough, going to the doctor, having that minor (or major) surgery we need. Even such simple things as getting the car washed, picking up the dry cleaning or staying organized seem impossible to accomplish, indicating that we’re pushing the limits of being human. We may also notice that our most important relationships (family and friends) are routinely being short-changed.
  8. Hoarding energy. When we are running on empty, we can have the inner experience of always feeling threatened, as though exposing ourselves to additional people or situations would drain the last of our energy or the energy we are trying to conserve for what we think is important. We might actually become overly self-protective and even reclusive in our attempts to hoard the few resources we do have. In their book The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz call this defense spending.
  9. Slippage in our spiritual practices. Practices that are normally life-giving (solitude and silence, prayer, personal reflection on Scripture, journaling, self-examination, caring for the body) become burdensome, and we don’t have energy for them even though we know they are good for us. We might even find that we are so accustomed to using God and Scripture for ministry purposes that we no longer know how to be with God for ourselves personally. We know that there are things we need to attend to in God’s presence, but we truly do not have the energy or the will. Over time, this becomes a symptom and also a source of our depletion.

She writes later (111, emphasis added):

When we refuse to live within limits, we are refusing to live with a basic reality of human existence. There is a finiteness to what I can do in this body. There is a finiteness to how many relationships I can engage in meaningfully at one time. There is a finiteness to time — how many hours there are in a day, how many days there are in a week and how much can be done in those blocks of time. There is a finiteness to my energy. There comes a time when I am tired. There comes a time when I am sick. There comes a time when I am injured. There are times when I am reminded that I am human — a finite being living in the presence of an infinite God. God is the infinite one. God is the one who can be all things to all people. God is the one who can be in all places at once. God is the one who never sleeps. I am not.

Our unwillingness to live within limits — both personally and in community — is one of the deepest sources of depletion and eventual burnout.

If this resonates with you — as it did/does with me — it might be time to make a change or two.

Happy Broken Face Anniversary!

Today marks five years since my longest-held dream came true, and my jaw was broken.

When I was twelve, my orthodontist uncle pointed out that I was developing an underbite that would eventually need corrective surgery. And from then on, that was the day I looked forward to — more than moving to the UK for boarding school, more than finishing high school, more than graduating college, even more than getting a girlfriend.

I finally began the process to prepare for the surgery in 2006, when I moved to California for seminary, a process which involved getting braces (for the first time in my life) so that my teeth would be ready for when they would break my jaw, push it back, and then re-set it.

Now, on one level, it was a purely functional, purely physical procedure — the underbite needed correcting and the surgery would do that.

But it was so much more. It was the thing over which I had no control: I couldn’t speed up the process of making my bones stop growing so that I could start the process of breaking them; I couldn’t make the decision as to when I was ready; I couldn’t fix myself.

So it impacted me on a mental, psychological, and emotional level too: if this needed fixing, then there must be something wrong with me, because if there was nothing wrong with me, I wouldn’t need to get it fixed! There were days when I would think that it was my underbite that was holding me back from _______ — maybe it was because of the way I looked that I hadn’t had a girlfriend, for instance.

The day of surgery was my Promised Land. Although I may have been able to tell myself that getting my jaw fixed wouldn’t solve all my problems, I felt that way nevertheless.

Only the Promised Land was a long time coming.

From the time I first learned I’d need surgery to that day five years ago, I waited thirteen years — by the time I had my surgery, I’d been waiting more than half my life.

First pic post-surgery

First pic post-surgery

Over the years, and especially in the ones leading up to the surgery, I wrestled with questions of self-esteem and self-worth, how much my appearance mattered or didn’t matter, realized how superficial I was being and, on many an occasion, didn’t really care how superficial I was being because I knew how I felt — at least, that was the emotional process. During those years, God broke off a lot of clinging detritus from my soul, helped me see myself in a healthier way, grew me in community, surrounded me with people who loved me unconditionally and affirmed me no matter what, pruned me of a lot of the weeds that had grown up over years of letting myself believe the lies I (and others) had told myself.

By the time the surgery happened, it still wasn’t purely functional or physical — there were still hopes and dreams attached to the Promised Land of Post-Surgery; but a lot of the extra baggage that I’d attached to the occasion was no longer there. Most importantly, through the process, God taught me experientially what I’d read in Ben Patterson’s book Waiting:

Who we’re becoming while we wait is far more important than what we think we’re waiting for.

I learned how to cling to God during those years because I had to. I learned how God saw me through the love others showed me. I learned how I saw myself as God revealed the facade of my self-sufficiency to me. And, more than anything else, I learned how much God loved me.

It’s strange looking back and thinking that the greatest challenge of my early life — the thing that I felt looming over my head for more than half of my first 25 years, the chapter that felt never-ending as I lived through it — has been done for five years.

Life hasn’t become easy; I haven’t learned how to overcome every challenge that comes my way; I still have things about myself that I’d like to change — as age catches up with me and my metabolism slows down, I still don’t look or feel the way I want to.

But I’ll never forget the feeling of worthlessness. I’ll never forget the sense of helplessness and my inability to change my situation. I’ll never forget the self-doubt and the God-doubt that plagued me. I’ll never forget that particular crucible.

It helps me as I minister to others who are going through difficult times of self-doubt and God-doubt, or those who are wrestling with self-esteem issues or battling things that they don’t know how to explain; it helps me to love out of the love of God, in the same way that others showed the love of God to me.

I don’t know what you’re going through right now. It may not seem like much to others but it may be the biggest obstacle or challenge or impediment in the world. (As you can see from the picture below, the surgery corrected my jaw alignment by … not very much. And yet it was the biggest, most difficult thing in my life for many years.)

My prayer for you is that, wherever you are, you would know the love of God for you. He knows what he’s doing, even when we don’t. Learning to trust in those times when we don’t feel like we can … that’s where our faith grows the most — though we may not realize it till years later.

X-rays

Soli Deo Gloria.

What happens when winter outstays its welcome

Turtle in the snow

February 13

February 14

March 3

March 13

March 16

Saying sorry

Saying sorry when you’ve made a mistake is hard. Admitting that you did something wrong — whatever it may be — is difficult.

Saying sorry when you thought you were right is harder. Feeling like you were justified, at least in the moment, gives us license to keep our apology locked up – I had a good reason for doing what I did; I shouldn’t need to apologize.

But I’ve been learning:

  • to swallow your pride;
  • to give up your ‘right’ to be right;
  • to acknowledge that even if you might have had a good reason for doing something, you still may have hurt the other person;
  • to be the first to take the step of rebuilding trust, even if the other person doesn’t reciprocate at first;

– that’s evidence of an infinitely deeper and more humble character than the person who (thinks he or she) is always right.

I’m still not good at saying sorry and it’s still never fun; but it always serves as a step toward reconciliation and restored relationship (with God and ourselves, even if not immediately with our neighbor)–and I’m learning that that’s a deeper, more holy kind of fun.

Matthew 5:23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,  24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

1 Corinthians 13:4   Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.