Need Some Rest?
I look up, startled to realize that ninety minutes have passed while I have been busy at my laptop. The room hums with noise and energy. Grinders and blenders screech busily as baristas call out orders at the drive-through. Clusters of people chatter in booths and tables. Yet I had noticed none of it. I had tuned it all out, while my fingers flew.
It surprises me, because at home the noise level is much lower, the number of people coming and going much fewer. Yet I struggle to accomplish writing or other focused tasks there.
Why do home noises distract me, while the caffeine-driven activity at Starbucks fails to steal my concentration?
Because at the coffee shop it is not my noise. Serving coffee is not my responsibility, so I can concentrate my full attention on my writing project.
At home, people need my attention and help. Taking care of their needs is my job.
Sometimes, though it is not so easy to sort out what my job is, to know when I need to be on duty, and when I can rest.
Do you share this uncertainty? Do you have a firm grasp on your job description in life, which provides clarity about which noises to pay attention to?
Or, like me, do you have an over-developed sense of responsibility in too many areas, leaving your senses continually on the alert, no matter where you are?
Most of us know if we fall into the second category. Years ago, I giggled as I drove by a roadside sign declaring, “For greater peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe.” Then I squirmed, as I felt that sign pointing its finger straight at me.
It’s fairly easy to know if we fall into the trap of trying to help God run the world, or at least our corner of it. We can read the telltale signs: never being able to sit down, entering conversations that don’t include us, finding ourselves in charge of committees we weren’t even asked to be on, doing ten “one more” things before going to bed.
Where we, or least I, run into trouble is in knowing what to do about it. Here are some steps I am taking, as I rediscover how to balance work and rest.
Admit that it is a problem.
There is a perverse sort of pride that comes with being a “do-er” or hearing people say “I don’t know what we would do without you.” But we actually do a disservice to ourselves and to others when we take on too much or step in too often.
When I fall into those habits, I miss out on the gifts of peace and focus. I fail to do my best at assignments that are mine, because I am trying to fulfill tasks that are not mine. And the painful truth is that what I view as helping others actually hurts, because I don’t allow them opportunities to find and nurture their own abilities.
Set some boundaries
Once we recognize that always being on the job isn’t healthy, we can set some guardrails in place to help us shift our habits.
Those might be putting an upper limit on the number of activities we will lead, or even participate in. Or the number of evenings we will give to regularly scheduled commitments. We can set aside a family night or a Sabbath day and refuse commitments that would interfere. I am finding it helpful to discuss new opportunities with my husband before accepting them. I make wiser decisions when I get insight from someone I respect, and have a cooling off period from the initial excitement, rather than saying yes on the spot.
Trust the true boss
In the end, it all comes back to faith. I take on too much because I don’t trust others to do it “right”. My fussing and tweaking around the edges of situations at home, work, or church speaks loud and clear. If I habitually I work too much and too hard, it tells God I doubt he is at work.
When my first child was born, I experienced some dangerous complications. Fueled by birth class confidence and worry, my husband hovered around the doctors, asking questions that implied suggestions though he has no medical background. Finally one of the doctors said, “Sir, sit down!” The situation was out of his control; he needed to leave the decisions and actions in the hands of the experts.
In the same way, so much of my hyper vigilance and over work focuses on outcomes that I have no control over.
So what do I have control over? With the Spirit’s help, I can choose…
Who and what I pay attention to
What I say and how I say it
How I respond to others
If I say yes to the assignments God has clearly given me
Whether I spend time with my Savior and my loved ones
Whether I take in truth from God’s word and share my heart with him in prayer
For today, that is enough. When it is time to work and serve, I am going to give it all I’ve got. When it is time to clock out, I will receive the rest God offers, echoing the words David spoke so long ago ,”In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8 (NIV)