A few short years ago I experienced the first, of what has now become several, full blown anxiety attacks…in public. Every time this has happened I’ve been in a restaurant with much activity swirling around me. It starts with a mild realization that things are beginning to feel too noisy for me to handle, but it rapidly escalates to an overwhelming and debilitating situation that can only be described as ‘tunnel sound’. My brain can no longer process the noise as ambient and I become hyper sensitive to particular sounds…typically loud, repetitive, grating, or sudden noises. My heart begins racing, I get hot and start sweating, I become confused…yet very aware of my confusion, I feel my blood pressure rise, I can’t hear or focus on the words spoken by the people directly in front of me, but I can hear noise from across the room decibels above what everyone else seems to be hearing. It creates an anxiety in me that always takes me by surprise when it happens. It makes me feel shaky, flinchy, tearful, fearful, and completely incapable of managing or controlling it once it’s begun its course. But the worst of it all is that in the midst of the mental and emotional chaos I’m experiencing in that moment, I can no longer hear myself at all…not my own voice…nor my own thoughts. I’m simply lost and drowning in a sea of chaotic noise…until I can find the clarity of mind to excuse myself, take some deliberate steps away from the chaos and take a long, deep breath. A pause…to get my bearings.
WE NEED THE WISDOM OF OTHERS WHO LOVE AND KNOW US WELL
The last time this scene played out, my husband and I were at dinner with my parents and our daughter. At the beginning of the teary stage my dad looked at my husband and said, “What’s happening to her?” My husband replied with something along the lines of, “She can’t handle the noise…it’s like chaos in her head…it’s just overwhelming.” I remember feeling a weird sense of peace that he understood the magnitude of what I was feeling. He can often see the warning signs of it coming long before I can. When we arrive at a restaurant that’s particularly busy or loud he’ll often ask me if I feel up for this…or if we need to go somewhere else. If he knows I’ve been feeling tired, overwhelmed, stressed, or emotional about anything going on in my world…he’ll double check to make sure that heading into the chaos is not going to overwhelm me further. He’ll ask me some questions to cause me to really think about whether walking through the door is going to be manageable or if I’m expecting too much of myself in that moment and rushing in without care or consideration of what the outcome may be. Some days, most days, the noise and chaos is a non-issue…I’ll hardly even notice it. I can sit through a meal with music blaring over the speakers, people boldly laughing at the next table, babies crying, forks hitting plates…unfazed and able to enjoy the meal. But on other days it’s crippling for me and very unsettling for those around me. In those moments of heightened stress and turmoil I’m not functioning in the peace that God intends for me to function.
It’s hard for me to stand at the door and consider those questions. It’s hard for me to say ‘no’…or even just ‘not right now’. It’s hard for me to be responsible and acknowledge that maybe I can’t handle the chaos today. It’s hard for me to know full well of the feast and fellowship that waits behind the door and want so badly to eagerly rush in…yet know in my heart that it may not be the right time. It’s hard for me to accept that while I may deeply desire the feast and fellowship behind the door…it may instead be silence, solitude and prayer that my soul desperately needs. It’s hard for me to give myself permission to take some deliberate steps back and pause…even when I know that it’s for my own good as well as for the good of those around me, particularly my family.
Sometimes the pause simply means ‘we’ll try again in a bit’…but other times the pause means ‘we need to go somewhere different all together’.
Having someone who loves you to help you determine WHEN you need to pause…and help you discern WHY you need to pause is so important.
WE NEED TO GIVE OURSELVES PERMISSION TO PAUSE
This past month I’ve given myself permission to take a long and lingering soul pause. It didn’t start out as an intentional pause from writing…it started with a quick trip to CA to photograph some families and to surprise our daughter with a trip to Disneyland.
My husband and I love road trips…and although I always load up my little travel bag full of books and magazines to read while we drive…I rarely even open the bag. Instead we talk and hold hands…and we sing worship songs loudly…and we talk a whole lot more…and we make all the right pit stops because we like all the same foodish things…and when it gets dark we get really embarrassing and try to out karaoke each other with 80s alternative playlists, Neil Diamond, Blondie, Taco, and one hit NON-wonders that would make most people cringe. I’ve never in my life seen my husband laugh so uncontrollably hard as he did when I word-for-word belted out every last note of Sandi Patty’s Face to Faith…with perfect inflection and intonation…it was a proud moment for me. We-oooli-bop!
But what began as a short break from writing in order to take a fairly routine trip to CA quickly started to feel more like standing outside of the restaurant door…asking myself some hard questions. Questions I still don’t have all the answers to…but one thing was overwhelmingly obvious…I needed to give myself permission to pause.
WE NEED TO ALLOW OURSELVES WHITESPACE TO BALANCE THE NOISE
One of the biggest reasons that I made the decision to move away from photography as a career was because of the industry noise. It just became too much to keep up with anymore. I stopped caring to keep up. I didn’t want to spend my days and nights feeding the social media circus that had to be fed in order to keep things moving forward. The industry had changed a lot over a 5-6 year period…and it reflected exactly what our culture has become…a constantly moving algorithm. My priorities had changed a lot during that same time and I just didn’t care enough to play the social media game anymore. I’m quickly learning that the writing industry moves along the same algorithm…as does seemingly every other industry that has its foundation built upon online relationships. It’s a necessary factor in our culture today…and it can be managed well by people who are gifted in that area. But truth be told…it’s exhausting…and it can suck the joy right out of the art of it all if we aren’t careful.
But it’s not just online business industries that are churning along on algorithms…it’s our lives. It was my life. It still is to a large degree…but in the midst of my pause I’ve taken notice of some things that I hadn’t been willing to acknowledge before.
WE NEED TO BE HONEST WITH OURSELVES
I’m too busy and I willingly invite a lot of unnecessary noise into my life. In the rare seasons when I find myself with some margin in my life…some glorious whitespace to allow myself some rest…my first thought is to fill it. I seem to have a difficult time allowing myself to just ‘be’. I am easily convinced that if I’m not busy with something…somehow I’m doing something wrong. I let myself believe that I’m wasting time, that I’m not doing enough, that I should be contributing something big (whether financial or otherwise), that I have no right to just ‘be’. I’m uncomfortable with rest…so I fill the whitespace with activity and noise. The very whitespace that God lovingly holds out to me as an offering of rest, peace, and reprieve from the noise. I almost always fill it with ‘good’ things…but as we all know, too much of a good thing can quickly become a very bad thing.
For me, the first signs of excessive busyness begin with a realization that things are beginning to feel too much for me to handle…a little out of control. I walk through each day with stress, tension, a lack of patience, an expectation that others extend me a tremendous amount of grace while I offer them very little, and I even begin to feel bitter and sorry for myself…as if the problem lies with everyone who expects things from me, rather than the fact that I have over extended and over committed myself by my own doing. The noise and chaos quickly escalate to an overwhelming and debilitating situation. The stress of the busyness weighs on me with so much intensity that I become hyper sensitive and excessively frustrated by everything around me. My children talking, laughing, or wanting my attention or my husband requesting things like food, clean clothes, a favor, or even just time alone with me suddenly feel like interruptions to my ‘misplaced’ priorities…or worse, as thoughtless and deliberate attacks aimed at destroying my agenda. Everything spirals completely out of sync.
WE NEED TO FREE OURSELVES FROM BEING A SLAVE TO CHAOS
And as a slave to this chaos is where I tend to live…actually it’s where I make intentional choices to live…for weeks and even months at a time.
Do you ever feel like you’re a slave to chaos? Do you ever feel pulled in so many directions that you can barely remember to pick your kids up from school? Do you ever feel like you consistently choose that which is urgent over that which has eternal value? I certainly do…and the results are always destructive…for my soul, for my sanity, and for my family.
Excessive busyness creates anxiety in me. It makes me feel lost, cluttered, tearful, fearful, forgetful, and completely incapable of managing my true priorities in life…the priorities that are given to me by God. I feel perpetually behind, as if I’m letting everyone down, and more often than not…like I’m failing. I’m a deep thinker…so I spend a lot of time weighing things out in my head. Sometimes that’s a good characteristic and leads to well thought out decisions. Other times it’s incredibly crippling and leads to so much over thinking that making a decision feels like it carries the weight of life or death. So the decision gets put off indefinitely…adding to the anxiety of living in limbo. What a vicious cycle I create for myself.
I remember one particular afternoon a few weeks ago…I was standing at the island in my kitchen, my mind racing with thought over all the things that desperately needed my attention. I was so totally lost in thought that I may as well have been somewhere else altogether while my daughter repeatedly said, “Mommy…Mommy…MOMMY!” I remember looking up from the stove and being completely startled by her standing there. I hadn’t seen her…nor heard her…at all. I could not hear or focus on the words spoken by my precious daughter standing right in front of me over the internal noise of busyness and stress in my own head that blared decibels above her small voice. Something needed to change.
WE NEED TO BE WILLING TO SEEK COUNSEL AND CONSIDER HARD TRUTHS FROM GODLY PEOPLE
Recently I had lunch with a new friend, Glynnis Whitwer. She is the author of Doing Busy Better: Enjoying God’s Gifts of Work and Rest and the Executive Director of Proverbs 31 Ministries…so she has a unique perspective on the dangers of overwhelming busyness mixed with the wisdom of balancing life and a large ministry and I was eager to hear her insight on some decisions I was wrestling with. She said something during that lunch that I will never forget…and that I have been prayerfully considering ever since. She said, “You shouldn’t do both…you CAN’T do both…and if you try to do both, you won’t do either well.” I had just told her of my new lofty dual career plans…to continue building a writing platform by blogging and working on my book proposal as well as to begin an entirely new venture…within the same industry. The irony being that the new venture has a core focus of peaceful and joyful living.
It was hard to hear that…and I told her so. But it was only hard to hear because it was true…and I knew she was right. What she didn’t know was that I was already wrestling with that truth myself…and had been since the drive home from Disneyland with my husband. I knew I had too much going on…I was already being pulled in way too many directions. I had invited more noise and activity into my life than I was capable of managing well. I was also living right in the midst of indecision…directional limbo, which always has a crippling effect on me.
There was something very special about that relaxing, peaceful, joy-filled trip to CA that God used as a gentle reminder that He had ushered in this new season of life as a means of being a sweet and peaceful change of pace for me and I was adding an awful lot of bitter salt to the recipe.
This was supposed to be a season of pulling back from commitments and busyness in order to be poured into by Jesus…a season of serving others instead of striving for personal success…and a season of rest instead of work.
WE NEED TO RECOGNIZE THE CONTRIBUTING FACTORS TO OUR OVERWHELMED LIVES
It’s so easy for our minds and souls to become cluttered by the noise around us. Information literally bombards us. We can’t even take a leisurely stroll through our Facebook feeds anymore without being inundated with ads and sponsored posts telling us what we need to change, what we need to do better, or how to make things happen…NOW! We are blasted daily with how to be better business owners, writers, wives, cooks, decorators, time managers, money managers, and parents. We’re told how to live better, how to stay on top of trends, and how to stop doing it all wrong. But nothing is ever good enough…it’s a mind game of mockery. It’s exhausting…are you exhausted? I’m exhausted.
The irony in all of this for me is that when I first began the decision process of closing my photography business…it was for the sole purpose of regaining peace and embracing a lifestyle priority shift. There had been so many years of striving, working, chasing, and navigating the chaotic noise that came from running a busy business. I had known deep in my heart that it was long past time for a pause. It was time to simply sit quietly with Jesus’ and ask Him to light the lamp at my feet every morning and trust Him to lead me wherever He was taking me next.
But instead of sitting quietly with Jesus and trusting Him to light up the darkness surrounding my lack of direction…I lit my own torch and forged ahead guided far more by the noise of industry experts, sponsored posts, and opinions from those who have walked this road longer than me. All of which immediately led me right back to a place of striving, working, chasing, and navigating noise. I neglected to be content with a slow walk with Jesus through the whitespace and I grew impatient with the pace of journeying within the small light illuminated by the One who loves me most and knows fully where He is leading me.
WE NEED TO LINGER WITH JESUS IN THE QUIET
So as difficult as it is for my workaholic self to do…I am going to give myself permission to continue my pause…to linger with Jesus…through the end of this year. I need to hear His voice and discern His direction in order to make some decisions with wisdom. In order to do that I need to take some deliberate steps away in order to take a long, deep breath to get my bearings.
It doesn’t mean that I won’t continue to write at all over the next couple of months, in fact I have a VERY special collaborative project with 21 other Christian writers that I’ll be sharing early next week that is going to bless your holiday season tremendously and I think you’ll wholeheartedly agree! This continued pause simply means that through the end of the year I won’t write on a self-imposed schedule or in an effort to strive for anything other than encouraging and ministering to the hearts of those who are reading.
I’m aiming for a distraction free holiday season…where I can pour into my family and focus on the true meaning of this beautiful season. It’s the first time in 12 years that I have that freedom with my photography business coming to a peaceful close and I’m committed to slowing things way down in my heart and home in order to be more present.
I’ll write when there are words on my heart begging to be written…and when they are illuminated by the soft lamp at my feet showing me ‘it’s the right time to step inside’.
I hope that you’ll give yourself that same permission to pause and linger with Jesus in the quiet while we enter this beautiful season of Thanksgiving for all that He has done.