I recently ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. He is a motivated, articulate, hard working man who is involved in heaven knows how many areas of family, work, and community. When I asked him where he’d been, he gave me the answer that many people can identify with: “I’m being overwhelmed with life right now.”
Most of us know what he’s talking about. What begins as the gentle ebb and flow of the rhythm of life turns into a tsunami that washes over us and threatens our ability to cope. What felt stable yesterday feels out of control today. The key to dealing with the feeling of being overwhelmed lies in our perception of what’s happening and why.
Most people will tell you that their life feels overwhelming because of their circumstances. “My job came to an end, and I don’t know what I’m going to do next. My husband spends all his time looking at his phone instead of engaging our family, and I’m left to do everything around the house. Our debt load is crushing, and I don’t know how we’re going to pay the bills.” Life feels overwhelming because of what’s happening.
But what if there’s an alternate explanation? What if we feel overwhelmed not so much because of our circumstances, but because of the way we react to our circumstances?
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that losing our job, dealing with debt, or enduring a broken relationship isn’t overwhelming, because it is. But I have observed that few people realize that although they might not have control over the challenges and difficult circumstances of life, they have a great deal of control over how they choose to interpret and deal with those challenges. We have a choice: either let the circumstances of our lives determine our future, or choose to move forward with purpose and take charge of our lives. Will our circumstances manage us, or will we choose to manage our circumstances?
In case you’re wondering what this looks like in real life, let me give you a couple of ways you can manage your circumstances.
You can choose to control your attitude. Learn to distinguish between the really important and the simply irritating, and react accordingly. Be content with where you are and what you have until God chooses to give you more or move you. Be thankful for what you have instead of pining for what you wish for.
You can choose to control your priorities. We can’t be all things to all people, so what if we choose to stop trying and see what might change? Learn the difference between the important and the urgent. Learn how to draw appropriate boundaries. Learn how to say no. And learn the real meaning of the concept of rest.
You can choose to control your habits. The apostle Paul wrote that while lots of things might be permissible, not everything is beneficial. What if you chose to go to bed an hour earlier instead of watching TV? What if you chose to pay closer attention to what you eat and drink and the effect that your intake has on your outlook?
We can’t control everything that happens to us in our lives. But we have a choice as to what those circumstances mean, and how to move forward. While the unavoidable circumstances of life happen, I believe we’re ultimately more a product of our choices than our circumstances. You really do have a choice. Choose wisely.