While talking with friends at a marriage retreat last weekend, I mentioned that time seems to be rushing forward as I look toward all the things that are coming our way on the calendar. My oldest son gets married in 63 days, we plan to move to Ireland in approximately 142 days, and between now and then, there are wedding showers, another family wedding, books to publish, an eighth-grade school year to finish out (90 days until the last day of school, in case you’re curious), funds to raise, and oh yeah, life to live in all those in-between moments.
It’s all good, and still, it can feel overwhelming.
I know I’m not alone in that feeling. Even if you aren’t planning a move or preparing for a wedding, I know your calendar fills up, and all the upcoming to-dos clamor for your attention too. So how do we fight the feelings of overwhelm? How can we guard against the anxious worries that sound like How will I ever get it all done? and Am I forgetting anything important? Here are some of the thoughts and verses that God has reminded me of lately . . .
Busy-ness scatters our thoughts . . . at least it scatters my thoughts. And when I follow those scattered thoughts, a couple things happen. Take a look, and see if this sounds familiar:
- I get less accomplished. Even as I started to write this sentence, I wondered what time my son needs to be at track practice this morning and reached for my phone to find the email with the info. I stopped myself . . . only because I was writing this sentence. (Two minutes later, my son walked in with the same question, lol).
Following rabbit-trail thoughts is something I coach writers not to do, because it breaks momentum. But it takes intentionality to ignore the pull of those wonderings and worries. Here’s a tip that helps me: If you’re afraid you’re going to forget something, keep a notebook or a pack of sticky notes handy and just jot down the thought and follow up later. (Don’t make a note on your phone because, if you’re like me, as soon as you pick it up, you’ll be tempted to check those text and social media notifications . . . aka rabbit trails.)
- I miss out on the moment. Constantly thinking about what’s coming, instead of focusing on the present—particularly when I’m spending time with God, Brian, our kids, or friends—robs meaning from the moment. Honestly, practicing presence is a challenge for me. When I’m praying or reading my Bible in the morning, my to-dos line up and start pinging me with incessant, mental reminders. When I’m with my husband or my kids or friends, busy-ness begs me to pay attention to it instead of focusing on the people I love.
When we moved to Ireland the first time, I got into the habit of planning my work schedule in a way that allowed for interruptions. When we arrived, I discovered that my American go-go-go mentality didn’t fit in a culture that values long conversations over a cuppa (hot tea). I loved those moments (hours), but they required me to make mental shift and sloooow down. I began reminding myself of a truth I already knew but busy-ness makes easy to forget: “People matter most.” At first, I had to repeat that thought every time the doorbell rang. That reminder helped me slow down and enjoy the moment and, before too long, all but eliminated the panicky feeling that used to arise at interruptions.
My word this year is intentionality, and it applies to practicing presence. The only thing I know to do when a future-focused thought pops up is to mentally acknowledge it and remind myself that this is the moment that matters and that all those to-dos will still be there when it passes. Being present requires that we intentionally surrender the moment and focus on what matters most right now.
God’s reminds us to be present when He says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Take a few minutes to read and reflect on the whole psalm; notice God’s strength and presence throughout.
Don’t rush it.
I feel like it’s already April. It isn’t. We’re still in February. But my mind keeps jumping ahead on the calendar. That happens to me when I know I have a deadline (or in this case, a wedding). On one hand, this mental skip keeps me on my toes and makes me double check that ever-present to-do list. On the other hand, skipping ahead on the calendar adds to those feelings of anxiousness that I’ve missed something important. And then Jesus’s words from Matthew 6:34 come to mind and put me back in the present. The NLT puts it this way (and sort of makes me chuckle): “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Isn’t that the truth!
Remind yourself of God’s faithfulness.
“… do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” —Philippians 4:6
At the retreat this past weekend, I commented during one of the table conversations that although it can be difficult to see what God has planned going forward, it’s very easy to look back on our lives and see how He has orchestrated events and encounters and provided for us in every season of life. One of the men at our table noted that, in our humanity, we tend to have short-term memory about what God has done. It’s true! Praying for what we need or want is simple and good. But as we pray, we need to remind ourselves of what God has done and thank Him for it—not because He needs our gratitude but because acknowledging what God has already provided helps us trust that He will be faithful to provide as we move forward.
Moses repeatedly admonished the Israelites as they wandered in the desert to remember the Lord and what He had done to free them from slavery in Egypt (e.g., Exodus 13:3; Deuteronomy 5:15; 7:18; 8:18). Moses retold the story and encouraged the Israelites to keep repeating it so they would remember that the God of the universe was on their side. He knew if they didn’t retell their stories, they would forget God’s power and rely on their own strength.
And isn’t that the key thing to remember when we’re feeling anxious or hurried or stressed? We don’t live by our own strength. It is in God that we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). It is through Jesus that we find the strength to keep it together when life threatens to spin out of control. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1: 17). Our job isn’t to control the outcome or to “do it all.” Our job is to follow His lead, find peace in His presence, and remember His faithfulness. That is enough for every moment.