Have you ever been so overwhelmed with life that even the idea of reading a book about overcoming it made you twitch? Me, too!
Have you ever wondered why the women around you can adopt seven children (two from foreign countries), run highly successful home businesses, take chicken soup & biscuits to the neighbors at the first sign of a sneeze, and run two Bible studies from home, when some days it’s all you can do to remember to feed your kids dinner before they go to bed? For real – me, too!
Are you ever certain that you could do everything on your list if only the people in your life would cooperate? (That is, do it your way!) Well, I’d be crazy to admit something like that in public, but …you know the answer!
That’s why I LOVE Kathi Lipp and Cheri Gregory’s approach in Overwhelmed: How to Quiet the Chaos and Restore Your Sanity.
Rather than lists of to-dos and tips that make you want to scream, “But where do I start!?!?”, Kathi & Cheri lead you, one small step at a time, to a more peaceful you.
What do I love about it?
It feels like I just sat down with two close girlfriends who, on hearing that I’m overwhelmed, make me a cup of tea (and scones!) and listen to me. They’ve been there before, and they’re going to come alongside to help me get out.
They’re not going to go all Martha Stewart on me and give me a huge list of things I need to do to get out of overwhelmed.
But they also don’t presume to know what’s best for me. I get so frustrated at friends who are sure they know the ins and outs of my life. Don’t you? “It would all be fine if you made your kid take the bus to school instead of driving him every day.” “Just whip up twelve meals on the weekends in between laundry loads like I do.” “Can’t your husband run to Costco by himself?”
Kathi & Cheri (you know, my new besties) don’t bark orders at me. They know I’m an individual. They know God made me different than he made them — or you. And they know that the way for me to get out of overwhelmed is to look at my personality, my values, the size of my plate.
And they know that the way to help you get out from overwhelmed, to quiet your chaos and restore your sanity, is to first look at who God made you to be. They’ll come alongside and guide you step-by-step through that un-overwhelming process to restore your sanity. (Or in my case, some of my sanity; they can’t be responsible for genetics!)
Has something like this ever happened to you?
When I was first dating my husband, we were having a lovely time laughing and carrying on, and then oops! — I tooted.
Yes, I audibly passed gas. It’s embarrassing to even type that sentence.
But he didn’t react – I mean, at all. So I found myself caught between being embarrassed (my normal reaction) and continuing the nice time we were having together.
Uncharacteristically, I asked, “Should I be really embarrassed?”
His response was spontaneous and genuine and perfect: “Only if you want to be.”
Only if I want to be.
Those six words gave me permission to not be embarrassed. But they also gave me a model of how to be in the world, with myself and with others.
Getting Emotional Cues From Others
From the time we’re quite young (about 13 months) we look to others to see how we should feel. It’s the first step in learning to regulate our own emotions. You’ve seen this before:
Your little one pulls in a bit closer when an unfamiliar person starts making small-talk with you in Target. (Or maybe you’re the one who’s being friendly in the check-out line while wide eyes and little hands snuggle closer to his mama.)
But as soon as the caregiver smiles and begins talking, the child – without necessarily knowing why – feels safer and relaxes his body against hers. He waited for his mom’s cues to tell him how to feel about the stranger. Had mom been wary, his body would have remained tense; he would have experienced fear or discomfort.
We see another version of this when a toddler takes a tumble on the sidewalk. It makes us cringe internally, but if we can manage a whole-hearted and smiling, “Oopsy-daisy!” most times the kiddo will get up unphased. Likewise, I suspect we’ve all had moments when we’ve rushed over with a horrified look, realizing too late that our little one was fine until he saw our reaction. Let the wailing begin!
Now of course, if there was really pain involved, no amount of our grinning through it would stop that toddler from expressing himself. But often, the fall has just startled rather than hurt him, so he reads mom’s expression and listens to the tone of her voice for cues, and proceeds to play happily when he discerns that mom thinks everything is fine.
Regulating Our Own Emotions
Over time, we learn to regulate our own emotions. We determine for ourselves how we feel in any given moment.
But don’t we sometimes still check in with others?
You wonder if you’re a bad person because you didn’t cry when your grandfather died. Or maybe you wonder if you cried too hard and made too much of a public display.
If I’m not distraught about a friend’s illness, agitated about my mother’s state of mind, or guilt-ridden about circumstances my friend wouldn’t be in if she hadn’t been helping with my project, does that mean I don’t care enough?
None of us wants to be cold and unemotional toward others. Wouldn’t that make us like the sociopath in a Hollywood thriller? Well, yes.
But that doesn’t mean our emotion has to be fully-charged in all circumstances, either.
Should I be really embarrassed?
Only if you want to.
The words remind me that I get to decide which emotions I feel, and to what intensity. I don’t have to be embarrassed for the sake of someone else. And I don’t have to ruin a pleasant time feeling overly-guilty about a biological function I couldn’t control. Or anything else.
You get to choose your emotion. You can continue to look to others to see how you should feel, as we all did when we were young. Some of that is okay. But you don’t have to follow their lead.
You get to decide how you feel about the situation, and emote accordingly.
What About You?
- Do you sometimes worry too much about how you’re “supposed to” feel?
- How can you adopt an “only if you want to” emotional attitude in your life?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
This Lenten season, I am reading Luke and Acts along with Margaret Feinberg. And I know that God is going to show up, plunging me deeper into His Word and His will, guiding my path.
This morning I read Luke, chapter 1. My heart and head are so full of insights I can’t seem to express them in words. So I’ll simply leave you with this prayer.
Heavenly Father, Jehovah God Almighty –
Praise be your name! May worship and blessing and praise to You always be the first words out of my mouth, as they were for Zechariah (Luke 1:64).
I am your servant, Lord. Let my life be what you intend for it to be, according to your word. Help me to surrender wholly to you and to your will for me (Luke 1:38).
I can’t imagine how difficult it was for Elizabeth to live with, make love to, and bear & conceive a child with a man who was struck silent by an angel of God. May I live as bravely and as blamelessly as Elizabeth did in her husband’s silence (Luke 1:18-64).
May I believe that you will fulfill all of your promises (Luke 1:45), because nothing is impossible with you (Luke 1:37).
May I walk blamelessly in all your commandments and statues, Lord (Luke 1:6). May I serve you without fear, and in holiness & righteousness all of my days (Luke 1:74).
May I be constantly aware that because of your tender mercy, you sent your Son, Jesus Christ, to give light to those of us who sit in darkness, and to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:78-79).
Guide me please, Jehovah, in doing your will today, in surrendering my life and this day to you. I praise you forever and believe your promises. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
On the verge of being on time, I only had to comb through my hair, start the dishwasher, and lock the back door before taking the monkey to school and heading to work.
I should wear earrings today.
As I fumbled through my drawer looking for matching silver hoops, the familiar thoughts flooded my mind.
Ugh! I can never find the right earrings. If only I still had my old ones – the ones that were stolen during the break-in several years ago.
I found one that would have to do – I’ll find it’s match in a minute – and started poking at my ear, trying to find the hole that had started to close. It would take several attempts and some effort to get these in.
I don’t need this this morning. I was about to be on time.
And that’s when I heard it. The words, “a gentle and quiet spirit” came to mind and I immediately knew the verse. Or the gist of the verse. I’m not super memory girl after all. Wasn’t it from one of Peter’s letters?
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” – 1 Peter 3:3-4 (emphasis mine)
A gentle and quiet spirit. That will not happen if I continue trying to push this earring into a too-tight hole or squeeze more things into my too-tight morning.
And it definitely won’t happen if I continue trying to squeeze more things into my already-packed life.
I’ve been struggling with my to-do list lately. I have many abilities but what are my responsibilities? What are the things God wants me to be doing right now, and what are the things He wants me to put on hold?
I don’t always know the answer to that. But I know that if the things I’m doing lead me away from a gentle and quiet spirit, they’re things I shouldn’t be doing.
Heavenly Father, Jehovah God, as we go through our day today, may we focus on what is important to you, and fulfill our responsibilities with a gentle and quiet spirit. In Your Son Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Have a gentle and quiet day, my friends! I intend to.