For the past four months I have been overscheduled, overcommitted and overwhelmed.
My commitments and obligations were not a surprise. I signed up for them. I knew that what I lovingly called “the four month sprint” was going to be demanding. I knew that I was going to enter a short but highly demanding schedule and list of responsibilities. What I didn’t expect is how drained I would be.
There are five things I learned from this four-month sprint of activities that left me feeling overwhelmed. These are five things to consider when you feel overwhelmed. (These are not listed in any priority).
1. Be present in the moment.
“Be present in the moment” sounds like a catch phrase from an afterschool special. There is however a truism to this.
Mark Buchannan writes in his book entitled Sabbath: The Rest of God that the Greeks understood time with two terms; Kronos time and Chairos time. Kronos time is depicted by the mythological being of the same name described as one consuming everything including devouring his own children. Kronos time then devours by always asking “what time is it?”, what needs to be consumed. Chairos time however asks “what time is it for?” What is the purpose of this present moment?
Being present in the moment is a way of thinking and a way of the heart. Being present in the moment means that I give my best to those I am with at that moment. It means that whatever demands are avalanching on me are not as important as this moment right now. Being present in the moment is making most of the time, for the days are evil.
To be present in the moment means that you think and work on one thing at a time. When you cannot task switch and be present in the moment. You must block out everything else and say, “It is the time for this. Those other things need to be done, and they will be addressed, but right now this is the moment in which I need to be present.”
Being present in this moment allows you to practice loving people as Jesus did. Being mindful of the moment forces you to listen wholly to the person talking to you rather than wondering when they are going to finish so you can get to whatever it is that feels more pressing. Being present in the moment is a boundary that establishes what this moment is for, what God wants to do in it.
Jesus had tremendous demands placed on him, yet He was always present in the moment.
2. Know and communicate your limitations.
I anticipated the busyness of my four-month sprint. I knew what my limitations were going to be before it began. Knowing those limitations allowed me the freedom to say “no” when asked, “Can you do this?”
Often the reasons we are driven by whatever appears to be urgent is because we have not clarified what is truly important. The great things we have been called to accomplish, those things that only you can do, are lost in the good things that could be done. We must recognize there will always be emergencies, but not everything that is urgent is an emergency.
This highly demanding season forced me to clarify what was most important. It was much better for my health, my family and the ministry I’m called and privileged to serve in to say “No, I really cannot do that right now” then to say “yes” and never get it done.
3. Maintain the practice of personal spiritual disciplines.
Busy or not, it is far too easy to skip the practice of personal spiritual disciplines. As a pastor, it is too easy to reason and delude yourself into thinking that sermon preparation will be enough to sustain your own soul. Certainly your sermon preparation will be challenging and often convicting, but an integrationist mode is not a substitution for the nourishment of your soul through the practice of personal spiritual disciplines.
Imagine a banker who does not balance his personal accounts or pay his own bills because he reasons, “the finance work I do during the week is enough to take care of my personal accounts.” That just would not work. Not only would this banker be out of house and home, he would soon be out of a job because his employer would deem him irresponsible.
In the same way a pastor cannot neglect his own personal spiritual disciplines and expect his sermon and Bible study preparation to care for his own soul. Pastors need to spend time with God before they can effectively produce great things for Him.
4. Maintain the disciplines of diet, exercise, and rest.
Stress is detrimental to your health. It will shorten your life and increase your weight. It is crucial, especially when feeling overwhelmed to take time to maintain the disciplines of diet, exercise, and rest.
When Elijah fled from the peak moment in his ministry he was exhausted—so worn out that he wanted to die. God nurtured and cared for him not by sending him off to a retreat or a conference but by having him take a nap, eat some food, and repeating (1 Kings 19:1-8). A simple but crucial formula: sleep, eat, and repeat.
We are psychosomatic beings. The condition of our physical health bears tremendous impact on our spiritual, emotional, and mental well-being. We cannot give to others if we have neglected fueling ourselves.
When you feel overwhelmed it is easy to say “I don’t have time to go for a walk”, “I need to sleep a little less to get more done”, or “I only have time to go through the drive through for dinner.” On occasion that will work but over a period of time neglecting the disciplines of diet, exercise and rest will take a toll on your whole being. Why even risk it for a moment.
Ignoring the discipline of diet, exercise, and rest will be detrimental to you, your family, and the noble task of ministry.
5. Guard your heart.
Proverbs 4:23 writes, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life”.
Feeling overwhelmed is when most are more vulnerable to temptation, sin and discouragement. The enemy enjoys deceiving you into thinking that this little sin that no one will find out about will bring great relief to my overworked, overstressed, overwhelmed, and unappreciated self.
It is crucial to guard your heart for that is where evil emerges (Mt 15:19). The idea of guarding here is not of creating barriers to keep people and things out of your heart as much as it is being very careful about what is allowed in. In same way a guard at a military base does not keep traffic come coming into the base but is certain to inspect each car and person before they cross over into the base. We, especially pastors, need to be very guarded as to what takes root in our hearts for out if flow the wellspring of life.
The key to guarding is to create margin. Create room to breath, to take Sabbath.
Each of us will feel overwhelmed in our lives. There will be different circumstances that bring that roller coaster emotion on but it results in feeling overwhelmed. When you feel overwhelmed you need to recognize that and address it. Left alone a constant state of being overwhelmed will destroy you, your family and the church you have been called to serve.
You, your family, your church need to see a pastor who has been gripped by the abundant life of Jesus Christ, who knows how to handle high levels of stress in God glorifying ways – especially when you are overwhelmed.