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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How to Live with the Unknowns

I keep coming back to these thoughts on HOW TO LIVE WITH THE UNKNOWNS, on how to hold questions in one hand and wisdom in the other. Turns out, both are promised to us. So there must be a way to live with the tension and mystery of the kingdom. I would LOVE to hear your thoughts – do you think God promises to answer our questions? How do you seek answers? What do you do with the un-answered? How comfortable are you with mystery?

Rachel Norris

“Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, because I know that the Spirit of the Holy God is in you, and no secret troubles you, explain to me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and its interpretation.”  Daniel 4:9

King Nebuchadnezzer demanded interpretation of his dream OR ELSE. After all, his kingdom could be at stake! He finally found a man of true wisdom in Daniel.

Daniel said,

“Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever,

For wisdom and power belong to Him.

It is He who changes the times and the epochs;

He removes kings and establishes kings;

He gives wisdom to wise men

And knowledge to men of understanding.

It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things;

He knows what is in the darkness,

And the light dwells with Him.

To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise,

For…

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When Way Closes, Way Will Open

The Quakers say it this way, when a member of the community comes to an impasse.

When way closes, way will open.

Such beauty and mystery in six small words. They resonate in my soul as truth, although I can’t quite explain them. Sometimes the melody is sweet and hopeful; other times frustrating, clanging. How might one respond to this simple promise? What could this mean? How could it be?

Parker Palmer elaborates on the struggle beautifully in his book Let Your Life Speak. It’s a short read; one well worth space in your heart and mind. In it, Mr. Palmer recounts his vocational journey through secular and sacred, faith and works, seclusion and exposure, fit and misfit, all the while seeking, as Frederick Buchner put it, “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” The following excerpt can also be found here.

‘Have faith,’ the Quakers said, ‘and way will open.’

‘I have faith,’ I thought to myself. ‘What I don’t have is time to wait for “way” to open. I’m approaching middle age at warp speed, and I have yet to find a vocational path that feels right. The only way that’s opened so far is the wrong way.’

After a few months of deepening frustration, I took my troubles to an older Quaker woman well-known for her thoughtfulness and candor. ‘Ruth,’ I said, ‘people keep telling me that “way will open.” Well, I sit in the silence, I pray, I listen for my calling, but way is not opening. I’ve been trying to find my vocation for a long time, and I still don’t have the foggiest idea of what I’m meant to do. Way may open for other people, but it’s sure not opening for me.’

Ruth’s reply was a model of Quaker plain-speaking: ‘I’m a birthright Friend,’ she said somberly, ‘and in sixty-plus year of living, way has never opened in front of me.’ She paused, and I started sinking into despair. Was this wise woman telling me that the Quaker concept of guidance was a hoax? Then she spoke again, this time with a grin: ‘But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that’s had the same guiding effect.’

If you can relate to Mr. Palmer, if your world and your God seems to be shutting you out, I’d like to first of all encourage you to read his book. Secondly, I’d like to submit to you some new ways of thinking. Maybe closed door after closed door does not mean you are in the wrong place. Maybe it actually means God is moving you along. Maybe it is not opposed to the beautiful promise:

You will hear a voice behind you when you turn to the right or left, saying, ‘This is the way – walk in it.’   Isaiah 30:21

Maybe God is using the sound of doors closing to fine-tune our hearing. Maybe He wants to teach us how to move along more efficiently. Maybe the racket made by trying to wrestle doors back open is drowning out that still small voice.  After all, a door opening is usually quieter than one slamming shut. Maybe it’s just not time yet. Maybe there is no good reason, yet God can still make it all work together for your good, and if your life can be a demonstration of His miraculous goodness — could that be worth it? Maybe that door would have been good, but God in His great love has a more excellent way He wants to show us.

Or just maybe we haven’t noticed what IS opening because we have filled our senses with what HASN’T opened. Maybe we need new eyes to see, new ears to hear.

In the frustration of doors closing, we must not become deaf to the still small sound of an open door.

I have done this. I have filled my heart with what is lacking, closed my eyes to His goodness, tuned out hope for the future. Unwilling to do the hard thing, to hold today’s disappointment in one hand and tomorrow’s hope in the other. I have also let busyness rush me right by what (or rather who) might be an opening. Once again it’s true: hurry hurts. Perhaps related, I have even let pride govern my willingness to do the very small thing in front of me.

But I – we – must not become too busy or too proud to say yes when that opening appears small, insignificant, almost shadow-like. I love how pastor AJ Jones says it, something like this:

God does have a place for you, something in this world that only you can do. Just keep being faithful, keep saying yes to all the little doors opening, because that’s how you’ll know to walk through the big one.

God sure does love to pour into lives willing to be faithful in the little.

So friends, when way closes, let’s not become calloused by banging on closed doors. Let’s move on. Let’s work to keep the doors of our hearts (eyes and ears) open. Let’s practice the little yeses even when our hearts long for the big one. Let’s not lose faith when the things unseen and hoped for appear to be on the other side. Let’s loose tight, blaming, controlling fists and lean trust-fall into the wind. Let’s look for a tiny shadow of an opening and stoop to see what lies within, how we can go lower still, how to take one small step at a time, and trust that way will open.

When Way Cloeses, Way will Open-2

5 Ways to Find space in the Suburbs this summer

Suburban life is filled with convenience, but with those conveniences come a price. We lose touch with nature, with wide open spaces, with quiet. Mind, body and spirit, we need these experiences to maintain wholeness in the midst of a hectic lifestyle. These few intentional activities can do wonders to rejuvenate young and old — and even middle-aged suburbanites.

1. Take your shoes off.

I know, we are starting simple here, but give it a try! It only takes a small plot of grass to comfort tired feet. (Especially un-manicured feet like mine!) It’s the same as digging your hands in the dirt – you know that feeling? It is how we were meant to connect to nature, and our bodies know it.

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2. Find water.

Hopefully you’re not too far away from some type of lake or river. Pack a lunch, load up your crew and find water. We are fortunate to have a creek and river right behind our neighborhood, but we will explore other waters this summer too. We don bug spray, flip flops and nets and look for crawdads under rocks and listen to the trees sway in the breeze. We look for types of fish, leaves and birds and name them once we get back home. Everyone loves it. Even in the melting heat, the streams are a cool retreat.IMG_9465IMG_066720130727_150112

3. Visit a friend who lives in the country.

They will enjoy your encroachment as much as you will. A whole day with no screens, new things to explore, and quality time, just imagine! Extra points for being out of cell phone range. img_2400img_24092013-11-01 16.20.12

4. Visit a state or national park.

In case you don’t have a friend who lives in the country, don’t worry – everyone has access to state parks. Here in Tennessee we have more than 50 parks, refuges and wildlife areas to explore, so there’s bound to be one nearby. The National Park Service is celebrating 100 years this year – look for special events! I am partial to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but am learning to embrace nearer Middle Tennessee natural areas too, and plan to make memories at some new ones this summer.IMG_0882 (1)IMG_1751image

5. Star gaze. 

Before sinking into that sweet bed, step outside and look up. It’s amazing how a clear night sky can sooth a cramped, hurried soul in a manner of minutes. The twinkling expanse has a way of reminding me to take some deep breaths and just be still and know. Like ripples and leaves, the starry hosts have a way of reminding me that I am a part of something much, much bigger; it helps me let go of all the little things that choke out joy and life. Looking for constellations, I forget about cookie-cutter houses and keeping up with the Joneses and schedules and conflicts and bills and traffic and all the things.

How have you kept your sanity in a world that’s paved paradise and put up a parking lot? What would you add to this list?

There is Enough, Even With My Soul

A moment of Spring morning peace to receive with each inhale, and to release with each exhale.

 

I breathe in stillness,

I breathe out frazzled.

I breathe in kindness,

I breathe out harshness.

I breathe in gratitude,

I breathe out criticism.

I breathe in forgiveness for myself,

I breathe out disappointment.

I breathe in forgiveness for others,

I breathe out judgment.

I breathe in deep and long, enough for today

More than enough for today

More than enough

More than

More.

 

My heart is steadfast, O God;

I will sing, I will sing praises, even with my soul.

Awake, harp and lyre;

I will awaken the dawn!

I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples,

And I will sing praises to You among the nations.

For Your lovingkindness is great above the heavens,

And Your truth reaches to the skies.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens,

And Your glory above all the earth.

That Your beloved may be delivered,

Save with Your right hand, and answer me!

Psalm 108