This morning I looked through some old files and came across this post that I wrote in November 2008.  It was a weird feeling getting an answer to my current prayers from my old self.  I decided to share it in case it’s helpful to anyone else:

One thing that motherhood has in common with any kind of challenging career is that it’s often overwhelming.  We feel pulled beyond our capacity to accomplish.  If you’ve had children, it’s guaranteed you’ve felt overwhelmed.  I’ve had several experiences that I think fall in the overwhelming category– sometimes I’m just overwhelmed by the tasks at hand and sometimes by my life in general:

Take Halloween night, for instance.  The dusk hour was approaching.  I picked up my brother from the airport.  I tried to throw the kids’ costumes together, but it proved more difficult than I’d expected because they were too excited to actually follow any directions.  At the same time I was trying to be a good hostess to my brother and get something going for dinner.  I still needed to get some towels and things into the guest bath.  Then my mother- and sister-in-law showed up with my niece who was as excited about trick-or-treating as my kids.  Mine were still half-dressed, but chomping at the bit to get out the door.  Plus I still had to get candy ready for a hand-out bowl.  And Matt was on his way home from school to go with all the kids.  For some reason, even though that moment was really insignificant in the grand scheme of things, I suddenly felt incapable of meeting everyone’s needs and I felt totally confused by all the chaos around me.  I didn’t know what to do next, and stuff just kept happening.  Doorbell rang.  Get candy.  Find socks.  Blow nose. Thank Grandma for presents.  Take candy away.  Find baby wipes. Answer questions. Try again.  Sound familiar?  Well, everyone finally made it out the door and the rest of the evening went on in relative peace, but that’s just one example of those frequent overwhelming moments that happen in the daily course of motherhood.

And then there are those overwhelming stages of life, like right after you have a baby and all the family who came to help out goes home.  I remember after I had Grant, I was sitting at the kitchen table eating food for the first time that day because someone had prepared it for me.  I knew my mother-in-law was going home the next morning and I thought WHAT am I going to do?  I was scared by the new reality and my lack of sleep/energy to deal with it.  But I lived.  Then about two and half years later, now with two kids, Grant had a bout with some seizures.  There was CPR and 911 and confused doctors at the ER.  I walked into the hospital room to see Grant convulsing and the doctors trying to hold him down.  I could tell they didn’t understand why it was happening and I was horrified.  I remember running out to the lobby and seeing my friend and my bishop and just shaking my head and saying “I can’t stand it.  I can’t watch!”  The next several days were spent in the Pediatric ICU with brain scans and spinal taps and all kinds of scary things.  In the end, everything seemed to be okay, and we hesitantly and hopefully took our little boy back home, crossing our fingers it wouldn’t ever happen again.  It didn’t.  But I’ll never forget that totally overwhelmed feeling I had about everything being so much bigger than me and out of my control.

Sometimes it seems like every time you turn around, something else is asked of you.  I recently read a talk by Henry B. Eyring called “O Ye That Embark.”  The subtitle quote says:  “Our power to carry burdens can be increased more than enough to compensate for the increased service we will be asked to give.”  This is a talk he gave to an audience of men, but anyone with half a brain can recognize that women deal with these same issues, so I was able to gain a lot from reading his lessons.  He says:

“It is not surprising that we feel from time to time nearly overwhelmed. Your thought that ‘I’m not sure I can do this’ is evidence that you are understanding what it means to hold the priesthood of God [or to fulfill your role as a mother–don’t you think that fits?]. The fact is that you can’t do it by yourself. The responsibility is too difficult and too important for your mortal powers and for mine. . . .When those feelings of inadequacy strike us, it is the time to remember the Savior. He assures us that we don’t do this work alone.”

I think if I reflect accurately on those overwhelming moments in my life– the big ones and the small ones– usually someone helped me through it.  Often it was the Savior who listened carefully to all the mumbled prayers under my breath and strengthened me, but other times a family member or friend stepped in and gave a hand.  Elder Eyring points out that this is just how it’s meant to be:

    “ . . . there are more with you than those you can see opposed to you. Some who are with you will be invisible to your mortal eyes. The Lord will bear you up and will at times do it by calling others to stand with you. . . . That suggests at least two things. One is to recognize and welcome those whom the Lord sends to help us. The other is to see in every assignment the opportunity to strengthen another. . . . Time and again over your life, the Lord has been giving you the experiences to build strength, courage, and determination. He knew how much you would need that to serve Him. . . . I bear you my witness that when we give our all in [His] service, the Lord will give us all the courage we need and the assurance that He goes with us and that angels will bear us up.”

He certainly has faith in us and equips us to succeed, even when our circumstances seem overwhelming.  And what about our own expectations for ourselves?  I think we are our own worst enemy in that area.  I’m the only one who treats my to-do list like a divine decree and then considers myself a failure if it doesn’t all get done.  Unless those lists start appearing on my pillow right after I say my prayers, maybe I need to remember it’s all about what I expect of myself and not what God expects of me.  This scripture quoted by King Benjamin comes to mind:

  “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.” Mosiah 4:27

When I read that today, I realized something new.  I always thought that “in order” meant “organized,” like when you put your home in order, but maybe it just means one-at-a-time, like when you follow the steps of a recipe in order.  Just one thing at a time.  We don’t have to do it all or do it all at once.  That seems so much more manageable to me– just do one thing, try to do it well (not perfect), and then move on to something else.  I’m just going to assume that God understands that when you throw children in the mix, even getting one thing done can be interrupted 54 times, and I guess that’s where the “diligence” part comes in . . . just going back to the task and not giving up or losing faith (in God or in yourself).


13 thoughts on “Overwhelmed?

  1. I worked so hard yesterday and just knew that I had rocked it. But then night fell and I walked that sad path to my bed, when I always remember what I didn’t get done. And I felt buried again.

    I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to hang on to that feeling of accomplishment. Maybe because my done list is so much shorter than my todo one.

    Today the sunshine is gone and things feel more difficult. So I’m really focusing on one thing at a time. ‘Step one, pick up Canon from preschool. Step two, shower.’

    • I know how you feel! I started making myself a “happy list” – it has ONLY three things on it, and they have to be REALLY small, relatively simple tasks, and they have to really be things I want done, and at least one has to be something FOR ME (i.e., going for a run, reading a book, etc). If I get those three things done, I get to go to bed happy, even if there are five hundred loads of laundry to be done, or mountains of dishes.

      I liked “in order” – you have to just do the most important things first, and sometimes the most important thing is to just let the dishes wait so that you can hold your kids.

      It’s a hard lesson to learn, but I think learning it (at least a little – I still have work to be done on myself in that aspect) has made me a much happier person.

      One thing at a time, and make sure it’s the most important stuff first. 🙂

  2. This has been a discouraging, down, overwhelming and just plain hard week for me. This post, and especially that Mosiah verse, were exactly what i’d been praying to find before I opened the computer. Thanks, Steph.

  3. Great thoughts Steph. I like the verse in Mosiah too. When I was faced with a huge, life-changing decision, I almost become paralyzed with anxiety from knowing the 100 other questions I would have to make as a result of that first one. I couldn’t imagine how I could figure ALL of that out. It felt like more than my heavy heart and overburdened brain could manage. Then my wise father told me, “Make one decision at a time. Just one. Then you can think about the next one.” That was really the key to getting through it. I just made ONE decision at a time. One I could handle–the 100 other ones could wait their turn. 🙂

  4. 1. That has happened to me before…reading through old posts and reading something that was an answer to prayer for now. It makes me understand part of the reason we need to keep journals, and it makes me keep blogging, even when I really feel like I don’t want to anymore.

    2. This post was an answer to prayer for me today. Especially that last paragraph. If you could see the very not-in-order office I am sitting in now as I type this, you might begin to understand my lifelong struggle with organization. I always feel so lesser because of it, and lately things have gotten so far out of my control that overwhelmed is an understatement. I’m blaming winter, but it’s really more than that.

    So one at at a time, in order. Those are things I can do. And I will try. Thank you.

  5. Glad you reshared this. I have been feeling incredibly overwhelmed with all the little (and big) things that keep getting piled on right now … and I even lead a fairly simple life, well as simple as it gets with 4 kids.

    Like I keep telling my kids and myself, life is about progression, not always about perfection.

  6. This is a great post – thanks for sharing! I think it is so cool that you got your answer from your own writings… 🙂 I can’t tell you how many times that has happened to me. It is a good thing I write in a journal (and blog). It just shocks me at how fast I can forget things (or thoroughly! :o), but as long as I can be reminded and learn again it will all be OK. 🙂
    PS. Here is a blog post of my own which I am revisiting to help me not be overwhelmed and, once again, get more order in my home (life is like that, you know?)
    I hope you are UN-overwhelmed soon.
    Corine 😀

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