Overwhelmed by burdens and burdened by overwhelm

I promise you I haven’t forgotten the burdens that I left dangling on a ‘to be continued…’ cliff hanger, but first a brief thought on overwhelm. I say ‘first’, but in reality it is all interrelated – it takes us back to some thoughts expressed in ‘A loving, lamenting life’ (6th October) while leading us nicely into the territory of burdens.

How do we avoid overwhelm? Should we avoid overwhelm? In my mind ‘overwhelm’ shuts me down and crushes me. It stops me functioning. My dual strategies are to:
a) Pack a lot in – to increase capacity by being very organised so that everything stays afloat and overwhelm is avoided, or at least postponed. The main tools of this strategy are to-do lists and schedules and plans.
b) Identify a few things to keep out – to have certain things that I just don’t let myself particularly register/attempt. The main tools in this case are discipline and using the aforementioned lists, plans and schedules to remind myself of the decisions I have made.

So far so good. To a large extent there is nothing wrong with these strategies – they often seem to work – at least for me.

I think, however, there is more than meets the eye tied up in all this. In A Loving Life Paul Miller contrasts overwhelm and lament. He suggests letting our hearts be broken over something rather than be overwhelmed by it.

Could all my careful management of tasks and emotions actually leave me more burdened? I push everything through the conveyor belt, I just about keep up with it all, round and round it goes – but it is still me carrying it all – I am the conveyor belt. So my great desire becomes to simply turn the belt off. Sleep or perhaps just driving nowhere along a massive straight stretch of road (American movie style) become my dream scenarios. Far from avoiding overwhelm – am I just circulating it through my life? Recycled overwhelm does not appeal – like the tap water in London that is supposed to have gone through seven people!

Of course the overwhelm that Paul Miller contrasts with lamenting in the life of Naomi is not so much of an over full to-do list, but of grief and sorrow and an uncertain frightening future. What is there to lament about having 10 birthday cards to send out? Perhaps all this overwhelm and burden is a bit of an “Oh dear, poor me, my diamond shoes are too tight and no one will cash my $100 bill!” sort of problem. If something is not worth lamenting over does that mean it is not worth getting overwhelmed by?

But how do we live like that? I am so immersed in my complicated world of:

  • Multiple things being insured and therefore annual checks that things are being auto-renewed, that info is correct, and that we are getting the best deal.
  • House ownership that requires correspondence with agents and maintenance etc.
  • School – a constant flow of information and trips and clubs and money to be sent in for school dinners
  • Ordering my medicine
  • Exercising
  • Planning meals, shopping, cooking
  • Keeping the guinea pigs in hay and sawdust
  • All the practicalities of running two cars
  • Being good stewards of money and thinking wisely about the future – keeping up with all the changes in interest rates
  • Ever changing technology – what should we make a part of our lives, what should we not???
  • Birthdays and Christmas and anniversaries for 2 big lovely families and 7 great God children (no anniversaries amongst them yet!)
  • Washing – do I really need to wash this at more than 30, is it just being lazy to stick it in the tumble dryer, or is that a better use of my time than half drying it elsewhere…..?
  • Budgeting
  • Sending the children in with the correct uniform, with the right PE kit, spelling learnt and junk modelling to take in. Not the mention the non-uniform days and the prizes for the raffle because they are in non-uniform, deciding whether to get a jumper for ‘wear a Christmas jumper to school day’ or to yet again do a homemade job.
  • Keeping up with the dentist appointments, the opticians, speech therapy, doctors….have they sent an appointment through or do I need to chase them up?
  • Whose passports need renewing?
  • What clothes are there under the bed for the kids to grow into – or have they already grown out of them?
  • Put up the mirror you bought months ago for the One and Only Daughter – she really is being very patient.
  • Clean – something if not everything.
  • Bedding – not sure why this seems such a big task!
  • Pensions – um.. should think about that.. tomorrow?

As I say “Poor us – my husband has a job, we own a house, we have a washing machine and tumble dryer, and 2 cars. We have been able to have children, and they are well, and able to go to a lovely village school,  I have a loving family and friends to keep in touch with, and who keep in touch with me, I live in a country with dental and medical care and we can afford glasses when we need them….”  These things interface with my life as burdens, and overwhelm-factors, but they are actually generous blessings from the Lord!

And yet- that list is real and it exhausts me! And that’s just the practical stuff – the urgent, the necessary, but not the important, the eternal and relational. Those are just the pebbles and grit to fit around the rocks and boulders of relationships and gospel service.

What about time in prayer and God’s word? What about serving at church, preparing, loving and spending time with people? What about time with my children – discipline and play and bringing them up in the training of the Lord, and marriage time and evangelism and actually keeping in touch with friends and family beyond birthday cards….?

Again – there is nothing there to lament over, to break my heart over – is there?

So where I am not lamenting, am I complaining? Am I complaining about right responsibilities that are just part of living wisely and carefully in England in 2015 in the situation that I am in? In which case we go back to my original strategy of super dooper packing everything in – but with the added element of thankfulness and joy in the gifts God has given me.

So where I am not lamenting, am I letting too much in? Do I need to expand my NOT to do list? Do I need to keep a few more things from getting under my skin? Do I need to more tightly budget my emotional and thought life? In other words – strategy b needs to be employed a bit more vigorously.

So where I am not lamenting – should I be repenting? Repenting of the added complications I add in to our lives. Buying more things to maintain or replace. Hoarding things rather than just passing them on. Ill-discipline in time use and planning – often choosing what’s best for me right now rather than what’s best next.

And where I am not lamenting – should I be?

Lamenting that there are people that I see at the school gates every day who don’t know Jesus. I add them to my to do list rather than crying out to the Lord for them and for wisdom to do what I can. They overwhelm me when they should prompt me to delight in a Lord who will not let one of his sheep stay lost. I weep over my sagging shoulders rather than weep over them.

Lamenting that my children and my husband and their mum/wife are sinful and that our house is often full of strife. I think up a cunning strategy and add its implementation to my family projects list rather than crying out to the Lord for his Spirit to work in us and to start in me. I weep over my exhaustion rather than my sin, and my family’s sin.

Lord help me to cheerfully fulfill my responsibilities, thankful to you, and resting in you. Help me to repent of my idolatry of an empty list, of complaining rather than relying and lamenting and pressing on. Give me the wisdom to do what is my job with diligence and joy, and to leave your jobs to you. Help me to lament what is wrong and not take on the task of fixing it all. Please daily give me what I need to do what I can and to trust you with what I can’t. Help me to learn to carry out the tasks that are mine to do while leaving you to carry the weight of them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


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