Thoughts on letting yourself get overloaded

March 1, 2009 | 53 comments

Earlier this week, I knew that this was going to be a crazy weekend. I had an absolutely dizzying amount of things I had to get done before the baby gets here tomorrow and had carefully organized my list so that not a single minute would go to waste. I even took a friend up on her kind offer of help (shout-out to her awesome blog, Betty Beguiles) and asked her to come over on Friday and help me get started on the mountain of housework I had to do.

On Thursday night I started to get sick, a sinus infection that had been lingering for a while finally taking over.

On Friday, still feeling sick, in the middle of Betty and I trying to get some important baby clothes organizing done, my 18-month-old daughter LM started exhibiting some concerning symptoms (including screaming at the top of her lungs with no stopping) that made me think that she might have swallowed something dangerous. While Betty and I tried to figure out what was wrong with her, our kids (“our” meaning “my”) proceeded to take a basket of clean laundry and throw it on the stairs. We eventually decided that I needed to take LM to the hospital. As I was on my way out the door to take LM to the emergency room, my two-year-old daughter LC tripped on the clothes she’d thrown around and tumbled all the way down the stairs. Long story short: luckily everyone was fine (LM just had gas and LC was just shaken up), but instead of a productive organization session, I ended spending the afternoon in the ER while Betty had her hands full watching the other kids. Very little of the important housework got done.

Friday evening I was so sick I barely got through dinner before collapsing into bed.

Yesterday — the day that was supposed to be my power productivity day — I woke up to find that not only was I still sick, but my husband was sick too. Both of us could do little more than lie around on the couch.

I’ve been blessed with a ton of support and many offers of help, but unfortunately many of the most critical things that need to be done (bills that need to be paid, a deadline to be hit, going through inbox to check for urgent items) are things that only I can do. Almost none of it will be done before Monday.

It has been very tempting to let myself become overwhelmed with anxiety about all this, and I’ve been thinking and praying about my predicament a lot. Then, last night, something became crystal clear to me…

I was looking over my list called Things that HAVE TO be done before the baby gets here!, and thought to myself, “I could see trusting God with the outcome of three or four of these things that aren’t going to get done, but there are almost twenty important things here! How could this possibly work out?!” And I think the Holy Spirit hit me upside the head with a 2×4 because it immediately became crystal clear to me:

It’s a whole lot easier to trust God when you’re not overbooked.

Lately I’d been drawn to rethink the lessons I learned here and here about not putting too much on my plate. In particular, I’ve felt drawn to think about the guidelines that God gives us through the natural world and traditional Judeo-Christian work practices about how much we should attempt to get done in a week. I’ll save the details for another post, but the short version is that I realized that a good way to figure out how much God expects you to get done in a week is to attempt to do no more work than you could get done in a six-day week, during daylight hours only, allowing ample time throughout the days for prayer breaks and calm, nourishing meals.

I’ve been thinking about how much I use modern technology (mainly artificial light) to push myself way past these natural limits — how I abuse the fact that I can add more hours to a day or week simply by keeping the all lights on until midnight or blowing off Sunday as a day of rest — and I realize that I do it to keep myself from having to make painful choices about what I can and cannot realistically commit to. As I’ve said before, saying no and setting limits is difficult for me. I don’t like to do it. So I tend to say yes to everything and just keep pushing and pushing to find more hours in the day when really there are none.

As I think through all this, I see clearly how I got myself into the mess I find myself in this weekend.

When you live your life within the constraints natural, God-given work/rest rhythms of the days and weeks, you have buffer. There’s some wiggle room in your schedule when urgent, unexpected situations arise. Also, you’re forced to practice the discipline of placing your to-do list in God’s hands on a daily basis: you constantly have to trust that those things that you won’t get to because of praying and taking a day of rest will all get taken care of in God’s time.

This became glaringly obvious to me this weekend: the amount of work that I attempt to do in a week spills far over those natural borders of how much one should work, but it all turns out fine and I can maintain the illusion of control…as long as nothing goes wrong. As long as everyone is healthy and there are no emergencies, I can get it all done without too much stress. But, as I’ve seen this weekend, when the slightest thing does go wrong, like a juggler who’s barely able to handle all the balls he has in the air, it all comes crashing down. And just as I was too reluctant to trust God by living within natural human limits in the first place, it’s harder still to trust him when the zillions of things I insisted on cramming into my schedule all start falling apart around me.

I am sure that this is not a coincidence that this is all playing out during Lent.

On top of the to-do list flame-out, this unexpected illness has derailed my Lenten plans as well (as happened in 2007). Even the few practices I was planning to observe for Lent have fallen by the wayside as I just try to get by. But what was behind my big plans for Lent — the sacrifices I was going to make, the devotions I was going to add — was a sincere prayer that the Lord might show me how to get a little bit closer to making my life one eloquent sermon. I truly wanted God to use this season to take me one step closer to letting go of my desires and attachments and controlling ways, to show me how to better abandon myself to him in simple, powerless, childlike trust.

As usual, his plans were better than mine.

I’m off to rest up before the big day tomorrow and, after a beautiful Mass this morning, I feel great peace about all the stuff that’s not going to get done. Thank you all for your prayers, and may God bless every one of you this week.


  1. Lisa V - in NJ

    God bless you Jennifer. You are a blessing. All the best this week with your wonderful, beautiful and joyous addition to your family. Love.

  2. Helene

    May you have a safe delivery tomorrow. I offered up my suffering on Friday evening for you. I normally don’t go to Stations of the Cross because it is difficult for me on so many levels, but I went on Friday. Even though we have never met, you were very much on my mind as was your baby’s birthday tomorrow. May the Lord bring you peace.

  3. veniteadoremus

    I can only say, God bless you and the incredibly important work you will be doing today (well, tomorrow for you).

    You are an inspiration to lazy, childless college girls. And probably many other people.

  4. Gorgasal

    Jen – thanks for sharing this. I just came back from a business trip and am slightly recoiling from all the stuff that “needs” to be done…

    Best of luck for tomorrow! You are in my prayers!

  5. Sue

    I will pray for good rest, a safe birth, and that you can truly let go of the other “stuff” and enjoy welcoming your precious new baby!

  6. Pam

    Will be thinking of you and praying tomorrow. This post really has me thinking. There are a couple of extra things I would like to do this month. Now I wonder if I should put them on my plate at all.

  7. Margaret in Minnesota

    God bless you, Jen. You’re in our prayers for a safe delivery and a healthy recovery.

    (I always look forward to my postpartum hospital stays, by the way, and consider them to be luxury accommodations–unlimited TV access, a private bath, and all the cranberry juice that I can drink!)

    We’ll see the both of you soon. 🙂

  8. Heather of the EO

    Hopefully you won’t take the time to read this comment :), but I wanted to say that I’ll be praying for you!

    What a whirlwind you’ve had this weekend. One that brought on an important revelation for you to share.

    You’re about to meet a beautiful baby. THAT is the very best thing to ever grace the top of a to-do list.


  9. Monnie

    Best wishes for the delivery tomorrow! You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers. Hope it all goes well!

    God bless~

  10. SuburbanCorrespondent

    God has a way of reminding us just Who is in charge.

  11. Betty Beguiles

    I suspect my kids might have had a little something to so with the laundry fiasco. 😉

  12. Hairline Fracture

    Thanks for the post. My prayers will be with you tomorrow.

  13. Anonymous

    Can’t wait to hear about the big day! You’re in my prayers.


  14. Jasmine

    I will be praying for you and baby tomorrow. May the Lord be with you.

  15. Udubalum mama

    I stumbled upon your blog while searching for lent-related readings and I’ve been so blessed by your writing during the past few days. I especially appreciate this honest post about weeding through the stuff we moms fill our weeks with in an effort to discern where God really wants our focus. This resonates with me as I spend two weeks with two kids and a husband out of town. God bless you as you bring new life into the world tomorrow.

  16. Shelly W

    Great post, Jennifer. I will be praying for you tomorrow and looking forward to reading about the birth of this newest blessing in your life.

  17. KimP

    Many blessings on the new arrival’s big day! I am praying for your and family, and I hope all goes well. (Ask for drugs early and often!) Much love to you,


  18. Elizabeth


    I am praying for a safe, happy delivery of baby #4! And by all means, just soak up those couple of days in the hospital. Call it a vacation and order out for food! Call your friends, nurse the baby and ENJOY yourself.

    The work will wait until you get home.

    Oh, what a happy day!!!

    With love and many, many prayers,
    Elizabeth Esther

  19. Anonymous

    It’s gets a lot easier to say “no” after the fourth child.

  20. Melanie B

    jen, My heart jumped into my throat when reading about the girls and your trip to the ER. So glad everything is ok. You’ll be in my prayers tomorrow. I’ll get Bella to say a rosary with me. I know God will be holding you in his hands. Can’t wait to see your beautiful little baby girl.

  21. Charlotte (Matilda)

    God bless you and we will keep you in our prayers all day tomorrow!

  22. Jeanne

    Praying for you!

  23. Kelly @ Love Well

    Praying that God blesses you and your family richly beyond all that you can ask or think tomorrow.

    May this week be a huge break and filled with His glory. Go forth and love well. (And have a beautiful baby. Be sure to post pictures, OK?)

  24. Sarah

    You and your family are in my prayers both tomorrow and for the next few weeks!


  25. Charlotte

    yes-i also pray i would abandon myself to Him in a simple, powerless, childlike trust. His ways are not our ways.

    thank you for this post and this reminder.

    looking forward to hearing about the new addition to your family…

  26. breagha

    Jennifer, I’m praying for you and your family. May your delivery be as peaceful as possible. Wishing you God’s peace…

  27. Jessica

    May God bless you and your new little one tomorrow.

    And thank you for writing this. It’s 11 p.m. and my husband and I just finished getting everything ready for the day tomorrow . . . I think I need to think about what you wrote.

  28. Hannah

    Hope all goes well with baby #4 today!

  29. Catherine

    Hi Jennifer,
    Right now it is the end of Monday our time, and you are soon to wake up. I’m praying for you as you enter this special and amazing day – that God’s grace will be with you. Can’t wait to hear the news!
    I’ve been enjoying your blog, and I particularly loved this post. I feel very challenged by not just the thought (and what we try to practise) of a weekly Sabbath, but a daily one also – that we try to keep our work in the daylight hours. You’ve given me lots to chew on – thank you!

  30. Dr. Mrs. Mommy Beth

    My second baby was due the week graduate school started. I eventually had to chose between workaholism and my kids . . ."come unto me all you who are weary and I will give you rest" said God patiently.
    Upshot of this 20-year-old story is that I gave God all day Sat & Sun for my kids – no schoolwork. I thereafter proceeded to get through my Phd FASTER and with BETTER GRADES than anyone else had ever gotten though my rigorous program. God is cool, eh?

    God bless.

    "God delights in giving rest to his beloved" (somewhere in Isaiah)

  31. lissla lissar


  32. Jeni B.

    I am praying for you and the safe delivery of your precious new little one! God Bless!

  33. Anonymous

    I said a prayer this morning for you and the new baby. Hope you are enjoying her already this morning.

    Being ill isn’t a good way to start labor.

    May the baby be perfect. Let the hospital pamper you mom.

  34. Sarah Mosley

    Praying for a smooth labour today.

  35. 'Becca

    I’m thinking of you and praying for you all day today! I wonder if your doctor will delay your induction a couple days to give you a chance to get well, but even if so, you’ll need prayers for your health and stress level today.

  36. Anonymous

    God bless you and your new baby today- I hope you have a safe delivery and a peaceful recovery & bonding time with the new little one.

    This post was very much needed for me, this morning… lately I have been in a mode of putting very little on my plate, staying home more, focusing on making sure I get my stuff at home taken care of first. I work full-time so I feel like my time at home is immeasurably precious, even when I see how much other working moms take on in their lives. Anyway, I unexpectedly have the day off due to snow, and I started feeling this creeping depression, like "This is all my life is, working, doing things for my family, going week in and week out without making progress or doing anything 'important.'" When I know that doing things for my family and for God are the most important things there are, and trying to schedule myself more 'interesting' or 'important' activities would be a mistake. A reminder like this today is just what I needed- it's when I am too busy that I don't have time for God, I get impatient with my kids, and I forget what my purpose is…

    As far as what I wanted to do for Lent- I made up a list of all kinds of sacrificial things I could try to do and wasn't sure what God wanted me to do. A lot of the things I did/gave up last year are now my daily practice, so I have to come up with something new. So I went to Adoration (with my kids) and prayed about it, and the answer that I got was "Just Love Them."

    I interpreted that to mean that I shouldn't take on a whole bunch of new spiritual practices or habits that would take away from my family- that focusing on them is as important as any elaborate prayer or self-denial. And really, what's a greater self-denial than putting the needs of others before yours, every single day? I also interpreted that to mean that I should focus on the spiritual practices that I already do, and do them with greater love. Focusing on that rosary or that scripture reading or mass with greater intensity, reverence and love.

    Anyway, thanks for the timely post… I hope you take a break from writing with the newborn, but (selfish me) I will miss your posts!

  37. Scarlett

    I just want to wish you luck this morning. I’ll be praying for you! (Although it’s already Monday morning, so you probably won’t see this until you’re holding your new daughter in your arms!)

  38. funtohavefun

    Jen, I walked 2 1/4 miles and prayed for you today, that you have an easy labor and a beautiful and well behaved baby who nurses perfectly and sleeps the night from birth. Looking forward to your birth post soon!!!!

  39. Kaycee


    As usual, this post is very timely for me.

    I’ll keep you in my thoughts today, hoping for a healthy baby and a healthy mommy, too.

  40. blog nerd

    YIKES does this hit home with me. I have to think about all you just said. Jeezum crow.

    And YAY BABY DAY! Praying with you for you.

    (I’m breaking my Lenten fast here. But then I was struck with something I needed to see. Funny how God makes good come from SIN and FAILING.)

  41. Anonymous

    Girl or boy? Name?
    God bless

  42. scatteringflowers

    Congrats on that baby!!! And thanks for posting exactly what I needed to hear today.


    Congrats on that new baby!!! And thanks for posting exactly what I needed to hear today.

  44. Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience

    I’m praying for you today, Jen….

    (The word verification for this: “maringin” — sort of like having margin in our lives? ~warm smile~ God gives us Sabbath… and daily rest in Him…)

    Every blessing…

  45. Anonymous

    God bless you, Jennifer, your new baby, husband and your 3 other kids…I, too, am praying for you!

    I will be ever indebted to you for Tolkein’s quote about the Eucharist as well as your love for Fr. Walter Ciszek, which I share.

  46. Anonymous

    Sometimes the little stuff we should be doing obscures the big stuff we are doing. You are doing God’s work, in your writing, your reading and not least in your family-Welcome to your new baby! God Bless

  47. Dawn

    Bless your heart. It’s amazing how peaceful those first few weeks postpartum can be. You have such low expectations of what you CAN accomplish that you simply accomplish those most basic of things – yes, even the ones that only YOU can do. ((hugs))

  48. April

    Beautiful post. You always express things so beautifully and have such clarity in your insights. Thank you.

    I’ve been praying for you today. I hope the inducement went well and that you are holding a wee one in your arms as I type.

    Blessings to you and yours!

  49. Carrien

    Here’s how I have finally come to think of it. The short and clumsy version. There are things that Gd has given me to do.

    Mother my children (this includes the homeschooling, hugging, training and disciplining.)
    Help my Husband (This includes, paying bills, balancing and refining our budget, practicing frugality out of respect for the time he spends at work, cooking nutritious food, keeping at least some of his clothes clean, and being sure to have sex at least a few times a week.)

    The ministry that we have (Both the nonprofit to help refugee children in Thailand, and the more immediate ministry to the children and mothers in my neighborhood and the other people God brings my way to love.)

    These are things I know God has given me to do. It is not my job to worry about whether or not I can do them, or to worry about the details I can’t control. It is my job to faithfully do what is given to me to do. TO just do the thing in front of me right now. I don’t usually take on more than that in commitments, but I do like to write, and watch some TV and read a few blogs, etc.

    I don’t actually have more than I can handle in these three areas most weeks. If I use my time well I even have spare time. But when I let things that God hasn’t given to me to do eat up that time, I find myself running out and frantic and sleep deprived at the end.

    It’s all a matter of whether or not I choose to do the next thing that needs to be done, or blow it off until later and procrastinate with something I would rather do. For me, being faithful involves the moment by moment choices.

    I don’t even know if that makes sense but that’s how my brain compartmentalizes things.

  50. Marianne Thomas

    I’m sitting here reading this too-true post at almost 1 AM in the morning. I have work yet to do and a nagging little cough but the idea of just getting off the crazy carousel and going to bed…well, that’s hard for me to do, too.

    I hope that baby is here, everyone is healthy, and you’re doing well. Many prayers going up for your family this night from the blogosphere.


  51. Anonymous

    I hope everything went smoothly with your labor and delivery, and that the most important thing you have to do right now is just cuddle with your new baby!

    God Bless You!

  52. Joy of Frugal Living

    Excellent post, Jen. I have been thinking about what I need to weed out before my baby gets here this summer. I strongly suspect blogging is one of them (not to say it is for you at all – yours is much more productive!).

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