This morning, I was working away on my laptop with multiple browser tabs and applications open, as usual, when suddenly, every app began to display error messages: “Hard drive is full.” “Exceeds storage limits.” “Cannot process.” “This computer has run out of space.”
I panicked. This laptop is my life … well, at least my work life. If its no longer able to function, my work will come to a grinding halt. Then I remembered that I don’t actually store much on the laptop itself. I use cloud storage and Google Drive for most of my documents. If the laptop believes it’s out of storage, it’s most likely the working memory that’s experiencing a snag. So, no, I don’t need to replace my computer, but I do need to close down the dozens of apps I’ve been using and reboot the hard drive. Sure enough, when the laptop powered back up, there was plenty of memory to continue working normally.
Rebooting devices has become routine in 21st century life, but occasionally I forget to do it for weeks on end, opening my laptop day after day to awaken it from sleep mode, never giving it the chance to clear its little circuited mind. On the other hand, while the warnings about storage and capacity weren’t entirely accurate — especially since I have many gigabytes available in the cloud — seeing those messages pop up reminded me about all the digital clutter I tend to accumulate: thousands of emails, dozens of downloads, large video and audio files of recorded conversations. After my laptop had a chance to reset itself, I took the opportunity to declutter a bit.
Of course I couldn’t read a message like “This computer has run out of space,” and not think about the message my own brain was sending me yesterday: “This life has run out of space.” I’ve got so many different events, meetings, clients, commitments, and responsibilities churning that I felt like the whole enterprise was about to explode. My instinct was to try harder to figure it out. I tried mapping out the week in hourly increments, penciling in tasks and events on the calendar. But the harder I tried, the faster it all seemed to grind toward a hard stop. Finally, I looked at my to-do list and calendar for the week and decided I couldn’t do it all. “Hard drive is full.” Meltdown is imminent.
I know I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by all life throws at me. It’s tempting to blame my circumstances; to insist that things would be better if I just didn’t have to deal with ______. But I’ve lived life without all the things that currently cause me stress, and life was just as full and overwhelming then, too. Instead of wishing I had a different life, what actually happened was a kind of reboot of this one. I didn’t quit every group and commitment I had. Instead, I took a reset. Over 24 hours, there were two meetings I could miss with little consequence. So I made my apologies and stayed home. Also, I talked it out with my husband before I actually melted down, and he helped me see that I didn’t have to do it all on my own. He and the boys could help. Finally, I realized it all doesn’t have to be done RIGHT NOW. Just because it’s on my to-do list for this week doesn’t mean that I have to do it now. In fact, I took the opportunity to move a few items to later weeks, once this week’s critical tasks are completed. By the time I went to bed last night, my system was operating normally again. Peace had been restored. A meltdown had been avoided.
That’s not to say a few of my commitments don’t need to be removed altogether. In my attempt to connect more with people, I’ve been saying yes a lot lately. While I think all the additions to my life are good, I need to balance them out by removing a few other commitments. Despite my best efforts, I can’t do it all.
And just like more regular restarts of my laptop may prevent these critical warnings, I do better at avoiding personal meltdowns and maintaining a sense of peace when I take time to regularly evaluate and reset my own life. Here are a few questions I ask myself, not only when life feels overwhelming, but also on an ongoing basis to try to keep my situation from getting critical.
- How do I feel about the current pace of my life?
- Generally, am I able to accomplish everything I plan in a week?
- What aspects of my life seem most stressful right now?
- Which circumstances in my life am I blaming for these feelings of being overwhelmed?
- Is there anything I can do to change those circumstances? Do I actually want to change them?
- Are there any temporary circumstances in my life right now that are causing extra burden?
- What minor adjustments can be made until those circumstances change?
- During particularly busy weeks, what can I not do with little consequence?
- Is it really necessary that I be the one to do this? Who else could do this or help me with it?
- Do all of these things need to be done right now?
- Have I added activities or responsibilities in my life recently without removing others?
- What can I let go of in my life?
Here’s the problem: sometimes even a reboot doesn’t cut it. Sometimes, our lives are so complicated that we can’t cancel our way out of a meltdown. When inner peace seems impossible, there’s still a way though. Francis De Sales offers a three-part plan, which Father Jacques Philippe quotes in his slim book called Searching for and Maintaining Peace:
“Let us do three things, my dearest daughter, and we will have peace: let us have the very pure intention of will to do all things for the honor and glory of God; let us do the little that we can toward that end … ; and let us leave it to God to take care of all the rest.”
It’s that’s simple, and it’s that hard. Sometimes we have to believe that wanting to honor God with our lives and doing whatever we can to achieve that actually is all we can do. And most importantly, we have to believe that the rest really is up to God … even if our to-do list and calendar says otherwise.
Need a little more peace in your life? Download this printable guide that offers the questions above in an extended format so that you can journal your answers. I’ve also included the quote by Father Francis DeSales to help you meditate on the greater peace God offers us regardless of our circumstances or the ability to change them.