Overwhelming Stress: Part Four

A Broken Schedule)

Yesterday I addressed that we might not have the capacity to do all of our daily tasks, but we might be able to use some techniques to get through them anyway, such as shifting some to an every-other-day cadence, or quickly knocking out high-effort tasks that then become low-effort maintenance.

I acknowledged, though, that even this may not be sufficient for everyone. It is possible to simply not have the resources to do all the things that we need to maintain balance, no matter what strategy we employ. An example of this would be if one didn’t have enough income to pay off even the interest on their debt. Or perhaps if one suffered an injury that prohibited exercise. Or of one’s need for education and a regular day-job were mutually exclusive.

In situations like these, more drastic strategies are required. But as a prerequisite to any of these strategies, we first have to accept that we aren’t going to be able to do all the things that we want to do. Any solution at this point is going to require sacrifice and a change of expectations. Coming to terms with this disappointment is painful but necessary if we are ever to make the most of a hard situation.

Once we have made this peace, then here are two options to consider.

Ask For Help)

I am certainly one that wants to take care of everything myself. I want to prove that I have the strength and wherewithal to take care of everything on my own. Part of me feels that I would rather live a broken life by my own power than a fuller life by the power of others. But that part of me is simply pride, and now that I’ve tried both options I can tell you definitively which one is better,

For years I remained entrenched in my addiction because I insisted on taking care of it on my own. But the more I tried to handle it on my own, the more it became apparent that I simply couldn’t. My deficit wasn’t time or money, it was spiritual strength, and I had to finally accept that I didn’t have the wherewithal on my own and that I needed to reach outward for help.

I finally did so, and I have leaned on the strength of dozens of people since. My therapists, my group members, brothers in recovery that I’ve met along the way. I have an entire village of supporters who help me to do what I couldn’t by myself, who help make up for my spiritual strength deficit and then some.

The principle is the same if you’re talking about financial shortcomings, or scheduling conflicts, or simply not having enough time to do everything. If you really can’t do it by yourself, then can you swallow your pride and surrender some part of this plan to the care of another person? We are born into families and raised in communities for a reason. The resources are almost certainly there if we’re willing to just look outside of ourselves.

Make the Hard Cuts)

I have an entrepreneurial and hobbyist mindset. I always have a number of projects and developments that I want to work on, both so that I can learn new things and also create new sources of income. These endeavors seem justified by the fact that success in these areas would make me a more skilled individual and bring greater stability to my life. So I prioritize working on these projects, even trying to progress several of them at a time.

Of course, things of substance never come quickly or easily. The cost of doing this work gets higher and higher, other untested fields start to look more promising, I try dividing my focus into even more areas, and even my basic self-care starts to evaporate as I pour more and more time and effort into all these ventures.

Many times I have had to give myself a sharp reality check. I realize that optional projects have become obligations, hobbies have become jobs, and ambition has become obsession. At this point, letting these projects go feels like cutting out some of the essential parts of my life, but really they’re not. At some point I have to decide what genuinely is essential and what only feels like it is.

Obviously this is a problem of my own making. More difficult to deal with are the demands that have been put on us by duty and necessity. The principle remains the same, though. If you really can’t maintain everything that you want to, and you can’t get enough external help to make things manageable, then sooner or later you have to accept that some things need to go.

Maybe you really just don’t have the capacity for a relationship right now. Maybe you really do have to declare bankruptcy. Maybe you can’t maintain every friendship. Maybe having a clean house just isn’t in the cards for today. Maybe you just won’t be in shape to run the marathon this year.

None of these are happy sacrifices to make, but at least we can have the dignity of letting them go ourselves, rather than watching them shrivel from neglect. It’s better to throw the food you won’t get around to eating away than to let it grow moldy on the shelf. Better to stop making half-measures that accomplish nothing and preserve our strength for full-measures on what we can actually accomplish.


Strategic management, asking for help, and making sacrifices, it certainly seems that everything would be nicer if we didn’t have to do any of these things, but these are the realities of life. All of us will need to take all of these steps many times through the years. Sooner or later we can have to make our peace with imperfection and make the most that we can of it.

If we do make our peace and move forward, we still may not accomplish everything we wanted in the way that we wanted, but I do believe we will all accomplish more than enough. Life can still be whole, even when it’s parts are broken.

Overwhelming Stress: Part Three

An Untenable Situation)

Yesterday I recommended a process by which a person can get their life under control. I suggested that they identify the minimum, daily effort that is necessary to change all areas in decline into areas of progress. Not massive progress, only a steady, consistent movement in the right direction. Then I suggested one commit to that daily quota, prioritizing sustainability of effort over grand, but short-lived surges.

But at the end I brought up the fact that for some even their bare minimums would still be too large an effort for a single day. You might have capacity for some of them, but you just don’t have it for them all. There are still a few ways that a person can respond positively to this situation, depending on the nature of their shortcoming. I will present two of the easier strategies today, and the two more difficult ones tomorrow.

Alternating Schedules)

Ideally, one would like to have balance every day. In 24 hours they would have sufficient sleep, spiritual communion, exercise, work, time with family, leisure, and whatever other life qualities they value most. But 24 hours is a hard limit on one’s daily resources, and sometimes there literally aren’t enough hours in a day to get all the things that one needs.

I found myself in this very situation. Trying to balance my family, writing, career, spirituality, rest, exercise, recovery work, budgeting, house maintenance, and pleasure only resulted in hurried efforts that didn’t really progress any of those areas and left many of them untouched for weeks.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit how long it took me to realize that several of my “daily” tasks could actually be “every-other-daily” tasks. While it may not be ideal, I’ve decided that I’m okay writing Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and exercising Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. Being consistent with writing and exercising on an alternating pattern is still better than the sporadic, weeks-without pattern that I’ve had before.

Of course, not everything should be split into an alternating schedule, for example I still want to have a prayer and seek connection with God every day, but I have nearly cut my daily tasks in half. And again, so long as my every-other-day effort is enough to progress me towards a healthier lifestyle, then I will still reach my goals eventually. And you will, too!

One might even consider a three-day rotation, but the more you space things out the harder it will be to establish the habit. You really want the cadence to be as regular and rapid as possible.

Short-Term Goals)

Another strategy to consider is that some areas of life might require a higher effort temporarily, but then will become more manageable afterward. An example of this would be if you need to get your finances under control. At the beginning, you probably need a higher-than-usual effort to track down your expenditures, figure out your budget, and cut out unnecessary expenses. But once you’ve done all that, you then only require a fraction of that effort to check yourself against your budget moving forward.

Again, ideally you’d be able to do all of the work for all the areas of your life simultaneously, but if you can’t, it may be worth considering whether you have any of these temporarily high-effort areas. If you do, for the short term prioritize getting through those tasks. Once they’re taken care of, then try to settle into a daily or every-other-daily cadence to take care of everything else.

It will be up to you to decide what other areas of your life are put on hold while you’re focusing on these temporarily high-effort areas. Is it okay to not work on your physical health while you get your finances in order, so long as you make a solemn commitment to bring that area back into your schedule once your budget is established?

I had this situation when I got serious about overcoming my addiction. At some point I needed to be able to integrate my recovery work with all the rest of my daily self-care, but for the short term I needed to focus on gettimg some momentum into my sobriety. For a temporary period, everything but the bare necessities was put on hold as I attended group meetings, went to therapy, and did hours of homework. I experienced a great change of heart, and then, with a little trial-and-error, I transitioned to a lower-effort strategy that would still maintain the recovery I’d achieved while still having time for all the other parts of my life.

Minor Adjustments)

Scheduling regular, daily efforts is a great step towards taking back control of our lives, but there will probably be a couple wrinkles in that plan. Fortunately, many of these wrinkles can be smoothed out with the minor adjustments described above. By shifting some things to an every-other-day cadence and by focusing temporarily on areas that could later be reduced to a lower effort, we will find that life becomes far more manageable.

But as I mentioned at the start, this still may not be enough to resolve every situation. Come back tomorrow as we’ll deal with the areas of life that are imbalanced through-and-through. As we will see, even in these areas, there can be relief and growth.

Overwhelming Stress: Part Two

Frantic Lunges)

A sure sign that a person is losing a fight is when they give up on precision and strategy, to instead swing and lunge wildly at their foe, hoping to get a lucky connection. Unfortunately, this is very often the same manner in which we fight the problem areas of our lives, taking passionate, wild swings at our trouble, but consistently missing our mark.

I have been guilty many times of panicking at a bank statement, or a number on the scale, or a new mess in the house, and then I lunge at the problem with everything I have. I want to subdue the issue quickly and permanently, and so I try to take the biggest steps that I can towards doing so.

And, if I were able to sustain this, I probably would see real and rampant improvement in the area. But the fact is, none of us are able to maintain this sort of frantic behavior for long. We quickly lose our stamina and then aren’t able to do any work at all. Not only that, but while we’re obsessively working on one area of life, we tend to ignore all the others, and the lost ground in those areas can easily outweigh the gained footing in the one we are focused on.

Thus, our desperate efforts are doomed to failure and frustration. We’ll wind up right back where we before, and probably even worse off.

The Tortoise and the Hare)

We’re all familiar with the famous story of the tortoise and the hare, and with its moral that “slow and steady wins the race.” It might be in our nature to react to stress and fear in dramatic ways, but we need to suppress that urge and instead approach the issue with thoughtfulness and consideration, and then we need to act in a calm and deliberate manner.

If you only make mild progress towards accomplishing your goal, you won’t exhaust yourself prematurely like the hare did. A mild effort is sustainable for the rest of your life. Even better, you can only really perform one desperate lunge at a time, but you can maintain multiple mild efforts in different areas simultaneously.

As discussed in my last post, we need to shift our focus from “what is the massive gap between where I am now and where I want to be,” and instead consider “how much effort is it going to take to just get things moving in the right direction?

A Recipe for Improvement)

There is a practice I have implemented in my own life to help me keep my efforts grounded and reasonable. First, I make a list of all the areas in life that I feel I am losing ground in. Then, I try to make my best judgment for how much effort would be enough to overcome the daily entropy in each of those areas. So, for example, in the matter of cleaning the house, I don’t have to make everything spick-and-span in one weekend. I need to figure out how much mess is made in a day, and I need to clean up that much mess, plus just a little more, so that over time the house will reach the state I want it to be in.

Once I have quantified this for each area, then I have my daily to-do list. I know what my financial budget is, how many calories I’m allowed to eat, and how many messes need to be cleaned. Anytime I find myself with a spare moment in a day, I consult my list and take care of the next thing on it. Once the list has been accounted for I can spend the rest of my day on whatever projects or leisure I want with a clean conscience.

A Foundation to Build On)

You may find that your to-do list isn’t very demanding. You might be able to do all of your maintenance and improvements in just a small section of your day and still have hours leftover. It might be tempting to immediately raise your daily goals to something more ambitious, but I would recommend giving yourself a couple weeks at this lower capacity to see whether the pattern holds.

I have had times where the first week of following my plan was a breeze, because I was still highly motivated and the week did not have much else scheduled for it. After a little while, though, excitement for the new program cooled down and I had the occasional unusually busy week. This was the real test for whether my plans were sustainable or not.

If the pattern does hold for you, though, then you can incrementally raise your expectations for each day, resulting in you reaching all of your goals even more quickly. What’s important is that the goals still remain sustainable, though. You want to be able to meet them every day with rare exception.

Insufficient Resources)

Finding that you have extra time and resources is, of course, the happy outcome. The other possibility is realizing that you don’t have the capacity to even do the bare minimum in each area. Going through this process has helped us identify that our life is fundamentally unsustainable and to what degree. While this may be a depressing realization, it is crucial information to obtain. It is better to know where the realities are and react accordingly than to keep plowing ahead in vain behaviors.

This brings us to our options. Difficult options, to be sure, but now we can intelligently choose them. Tomorrow we’ll dive into those difficult choices and how we can determine the best ones for our situation.

Solemnity and Joy- Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;


To every thing there is a season
A time to be born, and a time to die
A time to kill, and a time to heal
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh
A time to mourn, and a time to dance

We have been discussing the need for times of solemn reverence and also times of unfettered rejoicing. Is it any wonder that we would need both, given the fractured, dual-natured world we live in? As these verses illustrate, we pass through all manner of different experiences, the entire spectrum of good and bad. We get to welcome new babies but also bury old friends. We build things, but we must break things as well. We have times of health, but also times of pandemic. To deny an entire side of this reality for the other would be deluded.
Does living in the gospel give us a hope for a happy ending, and does that hope instill us with an abiding joy and peace? Yes, but Jesus still wept when Lazarus died. And are there times when we are treated unfairly, hurt and offended, some of us even killed unjustly? Yes, but Stephen still passed away rejoicing, surrounded by the glory of his God and Savior.
We are complex beings in a complex world. There is not only space for the entire spectrum of emotion within us, it is necessary for us to embrace them all. We should let each have dominion over its proper season.

Calloused Hearts- Matthew 15:32, 34-37

Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way.
And Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven, and a few little fishes.
And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground.
And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.
And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full.


I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way
And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave to the multitude. And they did all eat, and were filled
Yesterday I shared about a spiritual retreat where my heart reached its saturation point and had difficulty absorbing any more of God’s love. Spiritual connection is fulfilling, but at the same time it can also be emotionally and physically draining.
And while we seek to “bridle passions” and “master the flesh,” we are not meant to become ascetics, ignoring or abusing our physical forms. Jesus showed a great attentiveness to the capacity of the multitude gathered around him. They came to be spiritually fed and they received that. But the long duration had left them faint and he was sensitive to their need for physical revival, too.
It is a good thing to fast, to make physical sacrifices to embolden the spirit, to seek out spiritual experiences that fill us to the limit on a regular basis. But there is wisdom in resting after we have been filled and letting that rapture settle within us.

Give Thanks- Summary

There are a lot of things to be grateful for. I specifically tried to choose things for this #givethanks campaign that were universal, that anyone could still feel appreciation for, no matter how many trials are going on in their lives right now.

Certainly there have been a lot of trials for people this year. Not only in the form of large, international disruptions, but also in the quiet, personal tragedies that are an inevitable part of life. And from our trials it is all too easy to either become cynical and jaded, or else to hide our pain down deep where it will fester. The fact is that we should both be able to feel the weight of our sorrow and embrace the reality of still being very, very blessed.

In our lives we have both trials and blessings. And we have both of them in the exact same moments. It doesn’t do to deny either for the sake of the other. Even as we mourn our losses, we can also have joy for the things that we can never lose. The things that do not break or expire. The things that are promised for eternity.

The balanced heart knows its own sorrows, but its resting state is one of joy.

Dealing With Failure- Question

Each of us has had times where there was something we wanted to improve in ourselves, we made a conviction to change, and then we failed to keep that commitment.

And it is hard to know how to react to failure like this. I’ve had times where I was too hard on myself, berating myself in ways that were abusive and unhelpful. I also have had times where I’ve been too nonchalant about it, just shrugging it off with lip service and never making actual progress.

My belief is that failure should be devastating…but not soul-crushing. It should make us sad, but not hopeless. And my question is, how do we walk that line? How do we deal with failure in a way that is kind and compassionate, but also firmly committed to improvement? How does God react to us when we let ourselves down, and what can we glean from that example?

I’d be curious to hear if you’ve ever dealt with these issues as well. Do you ever find yourself giving yourself a pass when you shouldn’t? Do you find yourself holding onto guilt to an unhealthy degree? How do you make your recommitment sincere after you’ve let yourself down so many times before?

Personal Commitment: Month 4

August’s Review

At the start of August I stated my intention to maintain a healthy balance, even while working through the considerable task of moving out of our house. I committed to determine every two hours what I needed to be balanced, and make a conscious intention to accomplish that.

Overall I would say that August was a pretty good month. I did not remember this commitment every day, and I did not perfectly execute on it every day. But we did accomplish the move, and we did so in a way that I think was as healthy and as balanced as possible. There were moments of feeling overwhelmed, to be sure, but more so there was a calmness and steadiness through the entire process.

I began a new practice with my regular two-hour check-ins to help with this goal. In it I reviewed the interval of time that had just concluded, quickly jotting down every experience that had impacted me emotionally. There were ways I had let myself down, things I was proud of accomplishing, moments where others had mistreated me, moments where others had been kind, expectations that hadn’t been met, unforeseen blessings that had occurred, and so on. Anything that made an impact I took stock of, and in that moment was able to bring a sense of closure to the entire period.

Then I looked forward to the next two hours, and I listed out everything that I thought could be a challenge in it. I wrote down distractions that were likely to come my way, predispositions to failure, hurdles that I might not have the strength to clear. I tried to make specific intentions about how to meet each one, and deal with it in a healthy way. I wrote out clear hopes for what accomplishments I wanted to prioritize in this period as well.

This whole practice did not take very long, and I feel it helped me a great deal in having a clear intention for each new period of the day.

September’s Commitment)

Now that the move is over, there are a lot of practices that I used to be consistent in, that I want to get back into. Date nights with my wife, eating healthily, maintaining strong relationships with friends, and ticking things off my personal list of errands. I’ve tried maintaining each of these over the last month to some degree, but it was sporadic at best. Last month was about getting through a lengthy tidal wave, without losing myself entirely in it. Now I want to come out of survival mode, and start thriving again.

I am going to put together a list of my battle lines: what are all the good and healthy practices that I’m on the fringes of doing each day. What am I accomplishing some of the time, but would like to be accomplishing all of the time? Throughout this month I will try to push these lines forward every day.

Now I want to be careful to not set unrealistic expectations for myself. If I don’t hit every single area every day then I won’t stress too much about it. I’m not looking to be perfect in execution, but to be perfect in trying. I want to be making progress, and that is enough.

This particular goal is directly related to the study I am currently conducting on this blog. I am excited to take the principles of my research, and make them alive in my living discipleship. Come back on October 1st where I’ll give an update on my progress.

Thank you.

Personal Commitment: Month 3

July’s Review

Last month I examined my hesitancy to follow my own conscience. The nature of a conscience is that I’m not likely to be pricked by it, unless I am otherwise headed in an incorrect direction and need to be righted. But then, with any course correction, there is going to be friction. I have to overcome the resistance and pull into doing what I feel is right. Sometimes I succeed at that, sometimes I do not.

And something I have definitely noticed this month is that following one’s conscience is a spiritual muscle. Sporadic, occasional use is not enough to build strength. Regular, daily practice is the only way forward.

Overall I do feel that I improved. I followed my conscience far more this month, just by having that intention to do so. As I did so, I found a phrase that helped me a great deal in moments where I knew what I was feeling to do, but I didn’t know why doing it mattered.

“You don’t have to understand.”

Part of being guided by the spirit is acknowledging that most times you just aren’t going to know why it matters to do what you’re feeling to do. That’s why it’s called an act of faith. But doing it on faith is something one has to get used to. We’ve been trained our whole lives to think things through, to weigh pros and cons, and to be sure of what we do before we do it. And in general, that is a good practice to follow. But when it comes to the urgings of the spirit “you don’t have to understand.”

August’s Commitment)

This last month has been difficult, though, for maintaining healthy habits of self-care (exercise, meditation, getting enough rest, etc). My wife and I have been getting our home ready to sell and my team had a frantic deadline to meet at work. Thus far I’ve been able to keep pace with those new demands, but at the expense of a proper life balance.

At first I had this notion that it was alright to have things temporarily disrupted, but as that “temporary” period has grown longer and longer, I have come to realize that I need a way to find my balance even in the midst of everything else. I cannot just power through this, waiting for it to be convenient to be healthy again.

August is looking to be a very busy month as well, and so I want to come into it with a solid plan. It’s been a little tricky to come up with that. I don’t want to balance things out by trying to cram more stuff into already overflowing days. And I don’t feel that the solution is to give up on our efforts to move out of our house. We are stepping into a new phase of life that feels right, something that we should be doing.

What I’ve come up with for now is to be more deliberate with my time. When I am packing boxes I could be listening to scriptures on my phone. I could practice mindfulness, even in the act of tucking belongings into their corners. I could try to coordinate with my wife so that we do our work in the same room and are able to chat with each other.

I want to take my previous commitment for two-hour grounding exercises, and at the close of each exercise I want to state my intention for maintaining balance in the next two hours. That is my commitment for August. Come back on the first of September to see how it turned out.

Thank you.

The Captive Heart- Matthew 5:38-39, 1 Peter 2:24, Colossians 3:13

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.


Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also
Yesterday we discussed that the only form of justice our fallen world can provide is “an eye for an eye.” It is fair, but also harsh, and it is destined to worsen the whole human experience over time.
Jesus, of course, recommended a different way. By taking the insult, having the right to lash back in kind, but yet not doing so, the cycle of harm comes to an end. For the first time it becomes possible for the human situation to actually become better instead of worse. It’s an exciting prospect, but who has the strength to do it? How do we find the power to let go of vengeance, when our mortal frame cries for it?

Who bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we should live unto righteousness
Our heart cries for justice. There is an eternal force that sees offense and demands retribution, and that force resonates through us all. It is one of the laws of this world, and it cannot be denied, the compensation of an eye for an eye must be answered. What we need to recognize, though, is that it already has been.
When my fellow brother or sister has offended me, the offense that I would do to make things even has already been endured by Christ. He stands in for them, having that right as their spiritual father, and takes the pain until things have been made equal to what I endured. And because that balance has been made, I no longer need to hurt my brother or my sister. I can forgive them instead.

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye
And what is more, I am not only able to forgive them, I am compelled to! For I have also been forgiven by Christ, and not because of any merit of my own. I have been forgiven undeservedly, thus creating an imbalance, which that same eternal force of justice now compels must be matched by another act of undeserved forgiveness. Because I have been forgiven freely, I feel that I must forgive another freely.
And just like that, the self-destructive cycle of the world applies to us no more. It is not that it has been broken, it is that it has been fulfilled (Matthew 5:17).