The danger of being overloaded

October 23, 2008 | 27 comments

While out and about on Tuesday morning, I found myself furious at another driver. I was sitting at a light that just turned green, and the dented minivan in front of me wasn’t moving. I got frustrated and was muttering insults under my breath, reaching for the horn just when it finally moved. When I passed the car I glanced over to see a very weary-looking woman, rubbing her temples as if something troubling was on her mind. I felt so rude for almost honking. If she looked in her rearview mirror earlier she undoubtedly saw my aggravated expressions, clearly spelling out something like “You are an idiot and you’re annoying me!” in road-rage sign language.

Why was I acting like such a jerk? Because I was in a hurry.

I had just dropped the kids off at Mother’s Day Out and had scheduled about 10 hours worth of work to be done in the two hours I actually had, not to mention that I’d agreed to go to lunch with my mom even though I didn’t feel like I had time for it. I felt overwhelmed, like I was already so far behind that the extra eight seconds at that light could very well derail my entire life.

On the way home, imagining how I might have made that poor woman’s day worse with honking and obnoxious gesticulations over a stop light, I recalled an important lesson I learned a while back but had forgotten: I am always more tempted to sin when I’m overbooked.

When I lose my temper with the kids, more than half the time it’s because we’re late for something and I’m in a hurry; when I rush through my day without a thought of gratitude for the blessings that surround me, it’s usually because I’m just too busy to stop and take a breath; even just this morning I used a snippy tone with my husband when telling him about the ten whole minutes it took me to find something he’d misplaced…my exasperation because I felt like I just didn’t have that ten minutes to spare. I need to get this through my head:

Growing in holiness is a whole lot easier when you have some buffer in your life.

It looks like once again I need to take a hard look at all that I try to get done each week, and make the necessary (if painful) cuts to give myself some more room in the schedule so that I’m not tempted by anger when unexpected events cost me a little time. I have to do this every few months, I’ve noticed, as I slowly let little additions to my schedule and to-do list creep up to my ears and threaten to drown me.

This is a lesson I’ve learned before, like when I realized that I just might have a lot in common with the priest and the Levite from the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and when a wise priest gave me some of the most counterintuitive advice on being overbooked that I’ve ever heard. As with so many other important lessons, though, knowing it (and writing about it) is one thing…making the sacrifices needed to actually live it is another.


  1. Laura

    This is definitely the truth. There is nothing like feeling overwhelmed and then having eight different people standing in the way somehow of you getting your agenda accomplished. A very humbling experience, isn’t it?
    God Bless.

  2. SuburbanCorrespondent

    Jennifer, I love your blog. I’ve benefited greatly from some of your musings (particularly the one on vocations has helped me a lot recently in remembering what my priorities are). But I’m thinking that you do not know the exact translation of a certain Yiddish word that you used in this post, or you wouldn’t use it. Pick a different one, okay?

  3. Anna

    I find, too, that I get crabby with people when I feel like I am running late. Besides trying to redo your schedule so you aren’t so overbooked, I have found it helpful to practice relaxing that inner tension that says I have to hurry up “or else”. (Sometimes picturing the worst-case “or else” helps; I mean, am I REALLY going to be able to survive showing up to Mass five minutes late? And I know the world IS going to end if that laundry doesn’t get put away today.)

  4. reprehriestless warillever

    I find the same thing to be true.

    The worst is preparing for a trip. As I run frantically through the house packing up everything we will need, I snap at the children.

    I have found that I need to be packed a day in advance so that the stress/overload doesn’t pou over into my motherly duties.

  5. Michelle

    Excellent post. I’ve had days like this (and probably more to come in the future). Hopefully keeping this in mind I will be able to recognize that I need to restore the balance or at least do a better job of not treating other people poorly.

  6. Jill S

    You are a wise woman. I love your insight.

  7. Jane @ What About Mom?

    Yes — knowing/writing is much easier than doing. If only it were a matter of honestly not knowing what to do.

    Also, add overtired to overbooked.

  8. patience

    The woman in the front car sounds a lot like the woman in the car behind her. Overloaded, weary, harrassed. Sometimes these situations come to us not to draw us into sin but to hold a mirror up and show us our own difficulties. Mind you, I don’t believe in sin. The way I’d look at it is that the angels were at work there, using two women’s weakness to strengthen one (you) and provide an unconscious moment of compassion to another (her).

  9. Multiple Mom T

    Ouch. I mean it, OUCH. I am very busy in the mornings getting the kids out the door. I always end up losing my temper.

    If I took the time to stop and pray, I doubt I would have the same response.

    OUCH. Thank you!

  10. Cecelia

    Jennifer, thank you. I always seem to get something from your blog, even when I am quickly reading it between class dinner or class and work.

  11. Grafted Branch@Restoring the Years

    You and I share this problem in common. Not the overbooking, but the sin of anger that springs up from it.

    Imagine my conviction the first time I heard the real spiritual truth about it: when I commit the sin of anger, the root problem isn’t the circumstance of overbooking, it is really that I’ve set up an idol. In this case, I’ve chosen to regard my reputation before others (by being on time and dependable) above glorifying the Lord.

    That’s not to suggest that overbooking isn’t a problem, but perhaps the sin problem goes deeper still. It did for me.

    Love your blog!

  12. Jess

    I can totally relate. I am always much more snappish with Ella if I am bogged down and can’t keep ahead of my responsibilities. I’ve actually gotten my naturally unscheduled self onto a chore schedule and I stick with a daily routine for the kids that I hardly alter or things go haywire around here.

    You do have so much on your plate, I feel bad that I’ve added to it!

  13. Thia

    I needed this this morning. My son (2) has a terrible temper. He was having some issues this morning. I found myself angry at him (which wasn’t helping the situation) b/c having to take the time to deal with his tantrum was burning time I wanted to spend doing something else. If I really want to heap the guilt on, it was cutting into my computer time! I have five minutes left and I need to go start some house stuff. It’s really hard to remember (and act upon) the fact that people are more important than crossing stuff off the list.

  14. Dean

    Yes, but you did not honk and in that silence from you car, if not from your heart, is grace. Let us all say a prayer for the woman at the light and for you and yours. Indded for all of us who have more to do than time allows. The neighbor by the road and the pull of sin will haunt us all this side of heaven.I sometimes, when I remember to do so, follow the Vatican’s suggestion for the road and make the sign of the cross before starting the car. But again, you did not honk, you looked a saw a child of God

  15. Shannon

    I am having one of those “Okay, God, I get it” weeks.

    Tuesday morning, my car was stolen. But I had a carpool buddy and we went in her car for the two days.

    Thursday, after trying to access my work email from home, I called a colleague who told me the whole agency had been without computers since Monday afternoon. So there’s no mail, and no reason for me to be checking it on my days off.

    I had to cancel out on a meeting on Thursday, and a workshop on Saturday. But my spiritual director, before all this happened, told me I needed to pray more.

    Okay. I get it.

  16. Jennifer F.

    Shannon – I’m so sorry to hear about your car!!

  17. Sheri

    I have lived this post so many times. I struggle to not let my “gotta hurry” complex ruin the start of my kids’ day. Heaven forbid they dawdle over their cereal when mama’s in a hurry. And I know the whole time I’m doing it that I need to take a breath, step back, and cool it. I know it, but 99% of the time, I don’t do it.

    Good luck. I’m working on it too.

  18. Jenny


    I was totally contemplating the connection between anger and impatience this morning when I was experiencing nearly irrepressible bouts of rage towards the elderly woman who sat down a little too close to me IN MASS (nice, right?)and would periodically brush my coat sleeve as she reached for her Rosary or Magnificat…

    I was so aware of my own sin, my utter inability to do anything productive with it, and my utter dependence on God’s mercy to be able to offer up such a petty annoyance for His good use.

    St. Therese was, of course, the focus of the homily, jolting my awareness of how far I’ve been straying from her “Little Way,” and how very much it means to Him when we do small things with great love. I can love better later in the morning, or after that second cup of coffee… but when I’m annoyed or rushed or distracted…watch out, world.

    Thanks for this post….

  19. Amy Jane (Untangling Tales)

    Jane! That articulates my problem perfectly.

    A book suggestion (because we all need another book to read, right?) is Overload Syndrome by Richard Swenson, M.D.

    Both that book at his original book on the topic, Margin, try both to identify the issue “clinically” and offer specific ideas for a “prescription.”

    He argues for margin as the best way to serve God, because without it we don’t have the reserves to step and and fulfill an unexpected need when it arises.

    Two of my favorite quotes from his writing are at the top of posts here and here.

  20. Mary Rose

    What an extremely wise post! Yes, we’ve all been there. In our hurried, “need-it-yesterday” culture, it’s easy to forget to take a breath to just think. Your post was a great reminder to me to stay in the moment and keep my eyes trained on God.

    If you’ve not heard, EWTN will be broadcasting the acclaimed documentary, “Into Great Silence.” It is one man’s experience when he entered a cloistered monastery to tape their day. No dialog, just pure observation. From what I’ve heard, it is deeply moving and restorative to watch.

    Visit EWTN’s website and click on the TV tab and check the schedule. It’s on tomorrow night at 9 PM and goes for three hours. Maybe watching even a portion of it will recharge your batteries. 🙂

  21. tootie

    What a good reminder! Thanks for this post.

  22. Liza's Eyeview

    I SO AGREE! It’s like you are talking about my life. Thank you for the posts – your eloquent way of expressing this gave words to what I am feeling.

  23. Tree Climbing Mom

    Came over from Rocks in my Dryer. I was thinking the same thing this week. I’d spent the morning fussing at my kids because we were late for something I was too busy to do anyway. Thanks for reminding me to simplify!

  24. LizC.

    Lovely, lovely post. It pinches a bit, but it’s lovely.

    Though I have to giggle–I read one part as “growing in grace is easier when we have a little BUTTER in our lives”–because, of course, butter makes everything better! 🙂

  25. ~*~ Jennifer ~*~

    Jennifer — thank you for this. I’m going to send my readers your way. The shrugging… it’s starting to get on my nerves. I want to just shake’em!!

  26. ~*~ Jennifer ~*~

    I just left that comment on the wrong post… I pray you will forgive me. Correct blog… wrong post.

  27. PaulFan

    I agree. I want to slow my life down so I can live a more Holy life. It's a shame I can't juggle the world and my faith all at once. I do my fleshly best. It would definitely be much easier if my life were not so fast paced.

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