J and I took our first trip to Yellowstone together twenty-two springs ago. As we zipped down the interstate ahead of schedule in the middle of the afternoon, I realized we could make it to the park that night. We could cancel our along-the-way reservation, drive to the Old Faithful Inn, and wake up already there rather than still long hours away.
I calculated the miles and the time. I figured we’d pull into the Inn’s parking lot by ten.
What I didn’t do was reckon on a sleet-spitting storm and the sludge that passing semis threw over the windshield of our little red Plymouth Sundance. Or factor in the one hundred thirty-nine deer that crossed the highway on their way down to the Shoshone River. Or consider Yellowstone’s speed limits, which are 45 miles per hour at best.
It was ten p.m. when we crossed the park border. Still, we passed the gate and entered Yellowstone with a sense of euphoria. We’d made it. We were in the park. We still had sixty-five miles to go, but we’d be out of the vehicle and headed toward bed by midnight.
Except, just inside the gate, there was this sign. ROAD CONSTRUCTION, it read, along with something about how many miles this road construction was going to last. Something about a twenty-five mile-per-hour speed limit. Something that meant it was going to take a very long time to get from where we were to where we wanted to be.
I drove past the sign onto a road that had been reduced to its dirt base. Obeying the speed limit was not simply a matter of compliance with the law. It was a matter of survival. Even at twenty-five, the car lurched and bounced, jarring our bones and rattling our brains. Twenty-five became more of a dream than a reality.
Between the nonexistent road, a mountain pass still blocked by winter’s snow, and the potholed highway that led to our destination, four more hours went by before we finally arrived, worn and weary at the Inn. In my optimism and desire to get to the park, I had made a gross miscalculation.
I do that in life sometimes.
I tally up the tasks and the time and figure I’ll be able to pull it off before the deadline. But I forget to factor in life’s squalls that throw sludge and limit what I can see and do. I don’t factor stopping for one hundred thirty-nine unexpected obstacles. I forget how fast I can—or can’t—go.
And I don’t always know about the road.
Sometimes it’s smooth. Sometimes it’s a little bumpy. And sometimes it’s a bone-jarring, brain-rattling surface that brings me to my own life worn out and shaken up.
It isn’t the math, not the reckoning or the factoring or the considering. It’s a tendency toward optimistic and often delusional thinking, a belief that the little things don’t really add and the road will always be clear. It was this delusional thinking that defined last fall.
I felt overwhelmed. And stuck. Every day.
And then, one day after a morning (morning!) nap, I realized I wasn’t as stuck as I felt. I had options. Not a lot of them, but enough to make life more manageable for the now and better for the next time this always-packed season came around. I postponed a self-imposed deadline and enlisted help for current projects and one that would come back around in a year.
Overwhelm, I saw, was not just an unwelcome companion on that leg of my life’s journey. It was a bridge, a rickety one, between a land of delusion and one of saner living. Seeing it for what it was allowed me to be grateful, not just for the bridge but for the road that brought me there. Crossing it taught me a few things. Here they are, in print, so I can remember them and so I can share them with you, just in case you ever find yourself overwhelmed.
Six Ways to Use Overwhelm as a Bridge to Saner Living
- Resist the urge to panic. While panic comes easy and calm takes effort, it never helps.
- Realize you are not as stuck as you feel. Feelings serve as good indicators, but they aren’t good at telling the whole truth.
- Rest. Whatever that looks like for you. Somehow, things look better after a night’s rest. Or a morning nap. Or a bath. A walk. A conversation.
- Reconnoiter. While this is a military term, it’s helpful in navigating life. It means to go to an area to gather information about an enemy. Basic reconnaissance. And, while enemy may be extreme in describing overwhelm, the concept of an intentional information-gathering trip into your own life applies.
- Remediate. Based on what you learn, make changes where you can—both for the now and the later. Even a small change is movement.
- Request help. About the truth that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength, CS Lewis said that sometimes the strength is simply to ask. Sometimes it’s to carry on. Sometimes it’s to do less. And sometimes it’s the strength to face the truth that we need help.
And you? Have you ever found yourself in need of a saner way of living? What did you do? I’d love to hear.