I know what overwhelm feels like. I bet you do too. Incomplete thoughts flying through your head. That nagging, terrifying feeling that you’ve forgotten to do something. Or the paralyzing fear that you are about to do the wrong thing.
Whether we are overwhelmed by too much information or by too many things to do, the results are the same … a weary heart, a tired body and a defeated soul. We want to get back to safety … to swim back to the shallow end … but the strong current of information and opportunities drags us out deeper and deeper until we fear we may drown.
This is not how God intended us to be in life or in ministry. Matthew 11:30 reminds us that we can learn to live freely and lightly. So let’s create a roadmap to overcoming overwhelm.
Pray for guidance
When I am overwhelmed, you alone know the way I should turn. Psalm 142:3 (NLT)
Like David when he wrote this Psalm, we may be in a cave. All the decisions and demands may be closing in around us and we can’t find the opening we entered. But God knows the way out.
Acknowledging that He alone knows the way we should turn is comforting, isn’t it? When I let go of the pressure to have it all figured out, I can rest, knowing that God and ONLY God knows what I should do next. Relieving that expectation to have it all together moves my mind a little closer to “freely and lightly.”
Focus on the one thing
But the Lord answered her, 'Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Luke 10:41-42 (ESV)
I’m sure it is no surprise that I usually identify more with Martha than with Mary. But buried in Jesus’ gentle comparison of these sisters is a sweet word of advice for our Martha hearts. “One thing is necessary.” A lot of things may be urgent and important, but at any given moment, only one thing is necessary. Everything else can wait. The trick is figuring out what the one necessary thing is.
Sometimes the one necessary thing may be sitting at the feet of Jesus. But other times, it may be knocking things off our to-do lists, taking a course to improve our skills or building relationships with others in our niche. Markers of the one necessary thing may be:
- it meets a commitment you have made
- it removes a barrier, making it possible to accomplish other tasks
- it equips you to be more productive and efficient
- it completes a task, so you are done done with it.
Limit the input
The inexperienced one believes anything, but the sensible one watches his steps. Proverbs 14:15 (HCSB)
Okay … bear with me for a minute while I put my college degree to good use. The most basic principle of chemical engineering is
IN – OUT = ACCUMULATION
Think of overwhelm as the accumulation of stuff in your head. There are two ways to make Accumulation equal zero …. increase OUT or decrease IN. When we are working as hard as we can and being as productive as we can, we have increased OUT as much as we can. The only option left is to decrease IN.
Often, limiting input takes great self-control. We fear missing out on the one piece of information or taking on the one commitment that will make all the difference. However “all the difference” is more often made by multiple faithful steps, not one giant leap. Limiting input may look like:
- finding two or three reliable sources of information and ignoring others
- completing one task before committing to another
- stepping away from people and habits that provide negative input
- making full use of what you have and what you know before adding to it
Make a plan
Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. Proverbs 16:3 (ESV)
Planning makes you more efficient and productive. Planning saves you time and money. Planning helps you make better decisions. But none of those are the biggest benefit of planning.
Having a plan gives us peace of mind.
All those things swirling in our heads think they have to be done right.this.minute. But they don’t. Once they are assigned to their proper place in our priorities and schedule, they lose their power to insist on being at the front of the line. Once the demanding cries for attention stop, we can focus on the task at hand and rest peacefully, knowing that our plans have been established.
Ovewhelm does not have to overcome us. With our feet firmly planted in wisdom, we can withstand the currents and live freely and lightly.