On Being Overwhelmed: The One Question That Makes Sense of Everything

Overwhelmed. It’s a state I’m quite familiar with. I thought we’d be less familiar the older my kids get. But Overwhelmed has a way of folding itself into every season of my life, in different forms and manifestations. For several years, God’s been teaching me to ask a specific question that disarms blurred anxiety and opens the gates for peace, clarity, grace, and hope. This one question changes everything; it breaks life down into pieces small enough to hold without succumbing to the confusion.

Last night I came across a seven-year-old writing of mine detailing the conversation with God that broke through to my supremely overwhelmed, in-the-trenches heart. I didn’t quite have language for it then; with a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a growing fetus it was a feat just to form sentences. Take a moment here if you would, before we get to the Question…

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…I recently realized in my own life how heavy these responsibilities [wife, mother, citizen, light-bearer, employee, volunteer, caregiver, etc.] become if they are not tempered with the reality of my humanity and the grace of God. As a perfectionist and stay-at-home mom, I had become so entangled by the daily tasks of motherhood that it felt impossible to gain any perspective or hope of the future. Disheartened by the growing list of things to do that, let’s face it, might not ever be checked off! Beating myself up for all the ways I had fallen short. Disappointed by the ugly realities of sickness and pain and death and hate and injustice that at times seems to swallow the world up whole. And for some reason, I felt the need to understand all these mysteries, and own all these responsibilities, both true and false.

I was asking the Lord why it all felt so heavy, and if I was really supposed to feel so tired and heavy-laden in the face of what I considered ‘normal responsibility.’ His response was essentially, “Because it IS too heavy for you.” He is the Infinite One, and I am the limited mortal. By His design, He knows the future and I do not. He knows what my soon-to-be family of five will need in the years to come, and I – while I can worry all day long about what we might need, and if we will have enough – I do not. He knows the days that are left for me. He knows when and how the desires of my heart will be fulfilled. He knows it all.

And so His invitation to me through this realization was this: Let Me carry it for you. Let Me provide what you need. I am the One with unlimited strength. I am the Prince of Peace. I carry the government on My shoulders. At the end of the day, I am the One responsible, and I have chosen you to help Me with a few things, because I enjoy partnering with you and seeing your gifts and passions shine.

So I am learning to read my to-do lists through those glasses; to take off the load and rest for a while. I am deferring to my wise, capable, ever-present help in times of trouble, and taking His lead in what to carry tomorrow. He has counseled us to cease striving, and know that He is God. Of course the world must go on – the alarm clock will blare; the day’s tasks will press upon us, our bodies feeling the strain; challenges will appear without warning; toddlers will still have to be potty trained… perhaps I can at least let go of the things that aren’t mine to carry, share what I must carry, and find true joy in the fullness of all the good that has been given to me.

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What a beautiful thought:  What is mine to carry?

Put another way…

 

What’s my job?

 

This is the question. To fully answer it, I must also understand:

“What’s NOT my job?”

and most importantly,

“What’s Your job, God?”

I’ve found the Overwhelming rushes in because I’m trying to do a lot more than my job. In difficult situations, I tend to want to fix everything, to worry about the future, to make sure every need is met, to control the outcome, to make everyone feel better, to make everything right. I’ve seen it over and over since this sweet conversation with the Lord. The enormity of All The Fallenness and All The Jobs sends me into depression and anxiety. This is actually God’s design, to make me aware of the fact that these are NOT my job. It is too heavy, as Corrie ten Boom’s father taught her. Pretty much all of them are God’s job. Not mine. I am not God. He’s way better at all of these jobs.

A friend tells of heartbreak. I listen in silence, seek to know their heart, and if I sense I’m to stick with them through the pain, I begin to seek God’s heart. “What’s my job here, Lord? What is your job? I trust you with all the jobs that are yours. All these things I tend to pick up… I see now, they’re not not my job.” Sometimes, my only job is to give them a big hug and cry with them in the silence. And I do that job, and it’s enough – it’s all I’m meant to carry. Other times God gives me specific assignments in their life. (More thoughts coming soon on this subject of friends’ heartbreak.)

That’s not my job. Now that’s a powerful statement! It frees me up from everything that would entangle and overwhelm. It frees me up to not be God – a tiring and dangerous way to live. It creates boundary lines when others assume I’ll take on jobs that shouldn’t be mine.

So much more to say here… I’ll just give one final thought. The undercurrent through all of this – can you see it? – is the Goodness of God. We really can trust Him to do His jobs, and do them well. And we really can trust that His jobs for us are life-giving and best. He fashioned me for such a time as this, for such a job as this – therefore He has already given me what I need to do that job well. He believes in me; He knows I can do it through His strength. He knows my weaknesses and breaking points. He is thrilled to take me deeper into His ways. If God gives me a job, He’s setting me up for success. And if I don’t do it well the first or fiftieth time, He is gracious to afford me more opportunities to bring out the full expression of who He made me to be.

All the while, He whispers, Let Me carry that for you.

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The {Less Travelled} Road Back to You // Lessons from the Enneagram

I’ve been quiet over here – it’s summer, you know. But while I haven’t been writing, I have been reading and listening and thinking.

You know our ultimate dual-mandate: to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves? I’ve long considered this a three-pronged mission. For we are to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. If we hate ourselves, what capacity do we have to love others? Unlearning a negative view of self is a life-long process, and imperative to aligning with Jesus’ best.

And it seems to me we must understand ourselves in order to love ourselves. The true nature of Rachel that God knit together in my mother’s womb is something I want to embrace fully. In other words, I want to be the best version of myself. Healthy, whole, walking down an ever-brightening path. (A beautiful tandem of becoming students of our own hearts is that we also grow in our understanding of others, able to extend grace and freedom instead of judgment and unforgiveness; able to make God famous by the ways we love each other.)

For this reason, I’m a big fan of studying personality types. DISC, Myers-Briggs, Flag Page, Life Languages, what your favorite 80s sitcom says about you, whatever. Love me some online quizzes. So last year when I started hearing about the Enneagram, I was immediately intrigued.

The Enneagram is a game-changer. Reading through the nine type descriptions and listening to The Road Back to You podcast the last few months, I am still narrowing in on the type descriptions that best fit me and my husband. I’m even planning on buying the book (drastic, I know)!

I resonate with the Helper (type 2: caring, interpersonal people-pleaser) and the Individualist (type 4: introspective, overly-sensitive lover of beauty). Enneagram descriptors show how you operate in times of growth and times of distress, providing rich insights into each type. Interestingly, 2s lean toward 4-ness in growth, and 4s lean toward 2-ness in distress. According to these descriptions, I’m either a 2 living the dream, or a 4 having a hard time. I hope to God it’s the latter. (Surely this makes me a 4.)

They say that women in the South are often pigeon-holed into Two-ness by culture. Same thing for women reared in traditional church settings. The Individualist in me hears this and jumps up, raising both hands, almost squealing in delight… then punching in anger.

I’ll save women in the church for another day.

Personally, this tool is helping me untangle a difficult year in surprising ways. In the process I am discovering a clearer picture of who I’m created to be and what I have to give the world.

We often ask the question, “what does the world need from me?” (Or maybe only 2s ask that question?) Holding a deep love for the church, I also ask, “what does the church need from me?”

It occurs to me that’s an unhealthy question.

Particularly if I’m a 4, the better question is: “What do I have inside me, and what beauty can I make of it?” I find immense freedom in this; in considering not the end consumers, but the initial treasure and its innate value. In remembering I am more than what I do, more than what people see me do. I am more than a second-class servant, more than a housewife, more than a coordinator. I don’t have to bend myself into being helpful just because that’s what the culture expects from me. Whoops! I am getting into what I said I’d save for another day. 

Here’s what I’m realizing: it’s not about what people need from me, because whatever I give they will consume it all, and either praise me or ignore me, and both would be unhealthy in my current state. Also, I am really good at making myself into whatever or whoever people need. A skill I’d like to unlearn, because there will always be immense need, and spending myself on something that isn’t really me is no way to live.

I’d much rather live out of my true self, and trust that God will be meeting needs through me in beautiful ways. I long to know His pleasure not for what I do, but for who I am… for I am His, and He is mine.

If you are still reading and that makes any sense to you, let’s meet at the pool one afternoon and talk through it all! 🙂