My ministry peers frequently joked that I had the spiritual gift of “Overwhelming.” This was a kind way of saying that at times I could overwhelm them with information, data, and documents. The 21st Century reality is that we all have people, circumstances, and responsibilities in our lives that conspire to overwhelm us. What is being overwhelmed exactly? For most of us, it is when a limited number of hours collides with an infinite number of things to do, or our list of responsibilities exceeds our threshold to meet them. Being overwhelmed is a natural and normal response to unnatural and abnormal circumstances.
Forty years of ministry has provided me the opportunity to mentor and coach a number of ministers, especially Senior Pastors and Executive Pastors. Invariably our coaching conversations come around to feelings of being overwhelmed by life and ministry and its corrosive effects. There appears to be a combined cultural cry of “I’m slammed!” And, pastors and ministers appear to be on the front lines of this frenzy. Regretfully, there is no end in sight with the mushrooming use of emailing, texting, posting, pinning, streaming, iMessaging, Facetiming, Skyping, UTubing, WhatsApp-ing, and Zooming. Our lives are overscheduled and rarely unplugged as we relentlessly pursue ever higher standards of productivity. We are all trying to beat time by jamming more into less. And, our “do more” culture is a perfect generator of overwhelmed feelings.
In these coaching conversations I’ve found it helpful to focus on three factors that influence our feelings of being overwhelmed: Control, Expectations, and Response. Within each factor there are two contrasting realities that contribute to being overwhelmed. Let’s take a closer look at these realities, a surprising insight under each one, and a Silver Bullet answer to feelings of being overwhelmed.
Three Contrasting Realities of Being Overwhelmed
Typically, there are three contributing tensions that must be brought into perspective and managed well if we are to successfully overcome feelings of being overwhelmed.
CONTROL – Within Your Control versus Out of Your Control: There are always people and circumstances that you cannot control that contribute to feelings of being overwhelmed. The things you do have control over are often less in number, but are at least under your purview. For example, we may feel we have little control over the many interruptions to our day, but are comforted in knowing we can at least control where we go to lunch on most days.
Surprise #1: Invariably, people are surprised with how much control they actually do have. They are further surprised by just how much the things they have control over can positively impact their feelings of being overwhelmed. In the above example, we find under closer questioning that we can mitigate our interruptions through strategies we do control, such as, closing our office door, having an Administrative Assistant screen phone calls and emails, and making daily uninterruptable appointments with ourselves to work on high priority initiatives.
EXPECTATIONS – Your Expectations versus Others Expectations: It is not just the expectations of others that contribute to our feelings of being overwhelmed. We contribute to our feelings of being overwhelmed with our own set of unrealistic and destructive expectations. For example, we strive to live up to the timeline for an assignment from our Pastor, but exacerbate those expectations by our own overzealous commitment to perfection.
Surprise #2: Our own expectations, usually rooted in Personhood issues, almost always trumps the expectations of others when it comes to contributing to our feelings of being overwhelmed. In the above example, we find under closer questioning that the timeline is most likely negotiable and that our Myers-Briggs Perfectionist Personality Pattern makes us prone to meticulousness. This, in turn, causes us to take more time than is really necessary to effectively complete an assignment.
RESPONSE – Rational Response versus Emotional Response: We typically respond to feelings of being overwhelmed with both our head and our heart. For example, when overwhelmed with all that we have to do and not the time to accomplish it in, we resort to the pragmatic responses of working longer hours, planning better, or delegating more. We may also respond with feelings of anger, hurt, resentment, and depression.
Surprise #3: A healthy emotional response is usually more effective than a well-designed rational response. In the above example, under closer questioning we find that though the practical approaches help, they help for only a season, and then the feelings of being overwhelmed return. But, purposefully choosing the path of love, peace, thanksgiving, and joy in pursuing the journey of your God calling has both short and long term benefits to your feelings of being overwhelmed.
Awareness and understanding of these tensions is the first step towards taking responsibility for addressing your feelings of being overwhelmed. But, the reality is they imply we have more control over time, people, and circumstances than we really do. So, is there one overarching approach that is guaranteed to help us navigate our inevitable feelings of being overwhelmed? I believe there is.
The Silver Bullet
Generally speaking, I don’t advocate silver bullet prescriptions. In my experience, a singular answer to complex problems rarely exists. One exception may be that of addressing our all too frequent feelings of being overwhelmed. As helpful as they can be, the antidote is not time saving techniques and technology, flexible work schedules, mandatory vacation days, and more caffeine. The anecdote is faith.
We are rightly taught that the opposite of faith is doubt. An equally valid opposite of faith is control. Where does the need to control come from? Fear. In fact, for most believers the fears that lead to an unwillingness to relinquish control are a much stronger influence than any doubts we may have, and are at the root of most feelings of being overwhelmed.
“Have faith” is a complete sentence for Christians. The unpacked version for the overwhelmed goes like this: trust the sovereign God who is the great Creator, Orchestrater, Arranger, and Engineer of life’s relationships and circumstances. Trust that He is conspiring the events you are experiencing for your good and His perfect will. Trust that if you relinquish your fears and control that what needs to get done will get done. Trust that if you don’t meet that deadline or fulfill that responsibility that you and your family won’t starve. Trust that He is in charge. Let Him handle the events.
If you can follow this simple truth, something curious will happen. You will become more efficient and more effective. You will be less rushed and less focused on your to do list. You will see your priorities more clearly. You will be more “present” to the moment and to people. And, the big surprise? You will be free of the relentless crush of being overwhelmed, and free to follow a truer calling.
Posted on January 22, 2019