My question is about “compulsive busyness.” I wake up with eyes wide open and a tight chest as all the things I have to do during this day or this week start jumping out onto the stage of my attention and waving at me, chanting “Look at me! You promised to write a job recommendation for me!” or “you said you would answer my long email by yesterday!” or “You promised to mow the yard this week!” I know this is probably not a “spiritual” question, but I’m getting overwhelmed by things I have to do—and it’s confusing because they are almost all things I want to do involving people I really care about. I pray, but use up so much energy worrying about having so much to do that I’m getting very discouraged. Any ideas?
This is not only a very good question—one that many people have voiced—but I can add another part of the real time over commitment drama. Besides the busyness and other commitments you mentioned (which I also have experienced), I have another set of “crisis” voices coming from a group of familiar faces much dearer and more important to me than business connections. And I hear my own inner master-sergeant voice saying, “Don’t forget that your daughter’s birthday (or your son-in-law’s or grandchild’s or best friend’s) is this week!” I’m suddenly exhausted and frantic—and yet everything on my list is something I want to do—in fact something I feel I have to do to be the person I want to be.
I took on a very large writing project six year ago, with my wife, Andrea, and what I estimated would take two to three years (maximum) to complete stretched into four and then five years. It looks like we are finally going to finish the project this year. I had a full life even without this project, and during this time I’ve had several surgeries and other physical challenges to go through. Further, the economic downturn combined with the fact that I’ve had to keep working on this, created some financial pressure. All this started making my days start in the same wide-eyed, overcommitted, “will I ever get caught up” pattern similar to what you described. I was filled with anxiety over my life of constantly putting out fires.
Finally I came to a place of being really stressed out. And it was then that I finally realized I couldn’t solve the problem alone. And I surrendered my over-committed work life to God, being willing to do whatever it took to get it in order.
And this is what happened….
Recently I went to an overnight meeting with nine other men in which we share our lives, “the good, the bad and the ugly” with each other, asking God and each other for guidance and suggestions in honest but non-abusive and deeply respectful ways. We have been meeting three or four times a year, usually at sites in central Texas, for over thirty years.
During the recent meeting following the events I have just described, one of the members of the group told us about something he had heard a minister say recently. This minister had described a sense of being over-crowded with things she wanted to do and felt like she had to do—including caring for and taking time with family members and others whose situations took a lot of her energy and added to an already crowded job schedule. My friend reported that the minister had described a moment in her morning prayer time, as I recall, in which she saw—in her imagination—the faces of these people she loved so much. She remembered what she had just said, “—and I just have to do these things.” Then, inexplicably, she realized how much she loved the people she was dealing with and how fortunate she was to have them in her life. And she heard herself say out loud, “Lord, thank you that I get to love and share in these peoples’ birthdays, anniversaries and illnesses and other important parts of their lives.”
I don’t remember what my friend said next because I was thinking about my own family and friends and the people I’m trying to love and help in my work. And I felt a great wave of relief and peace come over me.
The next morning after I got home from the overnight meeting with my friends I woke up in our bed at home and opened my eyes. While I’d been gone we had received an invitation to attend the high school graduation of our youngest granddaughter in May which we were excited about attending but I was almost afraid to look at my calendar for fear I might have a confirmed business or speaking commitment. Then I saw, enclosed with the invitation, her senior picture. She is so beautiful that I wept. And my first thought was: “Thank you, God, that I get to be this lovely, intelligent, and young woman’s grandfather, and that we get to attend her high school graduation!” Then I thought about my wife, Andrea, still sleeping beside me and said to God, “Thank you that I get to share my life with this remarkable and lovely woman.”
Later, images of my family and other people involved in all the commitments I have on my plate floated into my consciousness and instead of that frantic feeling of breathless over-commitment, I felt peaceful, and I said “Lord, thank you that I get to be the father, grandfather, and great-grandfather of these dear people and thank you that I get to write this book with Andrea, and that even if I die before I finish it or no one ever reads it, thank you that I get to learn what you’re teaching me as we are finishing it.”
Then as each other thing I’ve committed to do came up in my mind, I said (and meant), “Thank you, Lord that I get to work with and walk with every person and project on my calendar. And in half an hour my life changed somehow. I felt full of gratitude.
I don’t know if this simple change will mean anything to you or anyone reading this, but just telling you about this has made me realize how grateful I am that I get to be the person who gets to consider, pray about, and respond to you who write questions and/or read what is written here. Suddenly it’s not such a pressured feeling to have agreed to write these blogs, not knowing if they are helping anyone. What I’ve realized as I’m finishing them is how fortunate I am to get to write them! Hope you have a great day.
Lord, thank you that I don’t have to change anyone to be happy—if I’ll let you change my mind. Amen.
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
– Matthew 5:8
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”
– Maya Angelou (1928 – )
Author and Poet
“Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”
William James (1842 – 1910)
US pragmatist philosopher & psychologist