I DON’T know if it’s the heat, but lately I find myself easily winded and tired after not really doing much. I am amazed at how other (younger) people can run around all day and not collapse in bed in a useless heap when it ends.
I see them tearing around trying to tick off every item on their agenda, and I am exhausted watching them struggle just to get ahead. Their meals are mostly on the fly; a menu of organic or free-range products, never mind that some taste like cardboard. And all the while their phones are lit up, chargers at ready, God forbid they should miss a message.
I want to have a heart-to-heart with my children and grandchildren to tell them to slow down, to take a deep breath and re-evaluate the break-neck pace of their lives; and yes, pause to smell the flowers.
We live in a pressure cooker that is ready to blow up. The world puts tremendous value on achievement and success and too many of us have bought into the idea that these can buy us happiness; that they will bring us closer to the brass ring in this merry-go-round called life.
We create our own stress. We scrutinize our abilities and measure our talents against those of others, without checking on their circumstances and situations. We make unreasonable demands on ourselves with expectations that are impossible to meet. Suddenly we are overwhelmed.
Diane Paddison is a Harvard MBA graduate and the founder and President of “4Words,” a national network of professional Christian women committed to faith, family work and each other.
The author of “Work, Love and Pray,” she writes: “We pressure ourselves with unreasonable expectations, with false comparisons to what we imagine or assume others are handling. Our choices and circumstances are leading to a growing number of professionals who are overworked, overcommitted and overwhelmed. It is stressful. It’s bad for your health. It is toxic to your relationships. And it impairs your ability to connect with and serve God well. This might be the time you decide to say ‘No.’”
Paddison asks: “If your life is filled to the brim and threatening to overwhelm you, what can you do about it? Many men and women I speak with know that they’re doing too much, but they feel trapped and don’t know where to start.”
I ask. How does one say no? How can you bow out from the countless obligations that through the years have created an inescapable trap for you?
Paddison compares a person who is overwhelmed by commitments and myriad chores and duties to a panicked swimmer. You may know how to swim, but when the water seems overpowering and you feel you may be going under, in desperation you will flail your arms and legs and find that you can’t swim a stroke. You could even drown.
The writer recommends a “mini-retreat,” withdrawing from the threatening tides of every day pressures, for a weekend, day, a morning, or even just an hour.
I can hear the usual excuses: “I’m too busy.” “I can’t afford the time.”
But you must make the time. It may give you your life back.
Paddison explains: “I have learned the only way to keep moving forward is for me to force myself to periodically retreat. I think of this as a chance for me to come up for air.”
Diane asks: “Do you know where your time is going?”
Think about it. It may be a good idea, at the end of the day, to compare our to-do list with a list of things we have done. This will show us if our time was well spent or if all that running around was just a waste of time. It may also be a good time to cut back. We must remember that life comes in stages, and we don’t have to tackle everything at once.
Because we live in a “do-more culture,” we wrongly associate being busy with being important and having purpose. Why is it that we believe that unless we are doing “something” we are wasting out time?
At my age, and with time running out on me faster than I can chase it, I am no longer beset nor obsessed with strict schedules or crowded agendas. But I still don’t subscribe to the idea that one of the biggest perks of being old is the choice to do absolutely nothing.
Breaking free from doing more and sticking to the goal of saying “no” does not mean that you will be doing less. By cutting back on your crowded list of activities, Paddison says you are really opening up. She points to the Bible where there are several passages that call us not to action but to stillness, to consideration and waiting.
I see it as the perfect opportunity to re-connect with family, to heal broken relationships, return to prayer and recover the peace that you thought you had lost.
Now or never
In my quietest of moments, I realize that there is much still to be done; issues to be dealt with, wounds to be healed, wrongs to be forgiven. And in my heart of hearts, the words “now or never” have new meaning.
Let us not get lost in the noise and busyness of the world or we may miss His Voice. Listen. In the middle of our darkness, of chaos and confusion, He whispers to us: “Be still and know that I am God.”