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Handling Overwhelm In A Demanding World

I don't know about you, but I'm busy. Too busy, probably.

In our world, we seem to put a premium on speed. The faster we move, the better. The more we get done, the more satisfied we feel (at least, for a little while).

Make that list. Check those items off. Keep pushing. Keep striving.

Keep up. Get ahead. Stay ahead. Move faster.


Our world spins quickly. Global society gives us immediate access to all kinds of info. New and events demanding our attention bombard us continually - presidential campaigns, economic updates, refugee crises, immigration issues, the war on terrorism, financial instability, natural disasters, regional conflicts, racial unrest, human rights issues, and political upheaval, to name a few. Trying to keep up with all this is time-consuming, emotionally draining, and probably unrealistic.

Our personal worlds spin just as fast. We have careers, businesses, possessions, homes, relationships, children, and grandchildren (and perhaps parents also) - all of which require energy and focus. We have personal issues, relational quandaries, health concerns, financial challenges, and family complications. Along the way we get hit. We lose people, relationships, pets, jobs, homes, physical abilities, and dreams.

Oh, and we're all aging.

Life is full, and exhausting.

I can see myself as a kid sitting in front of the TV watching the Tonight Show, mesmerized by that guy trying to keep all those plates spinning at the end of those sticks. The more plates in the air, the faster he has to move, and the more frantic the scene becomes. I get tired just thinking about it.

In my work as a hospice chaplain, I have conversations of many types with all kinds of people. One theme is pretty constant. They're tired. Many of them are exhausted. They are reviewing their lives and relationships. Many wish they had done a lot differently. When I ask what they would say to the rest of the world about life, the most common answer is some variant of, "Slow down and pay attention to the important stuff."

Slow down? How?

Our world is one of constant change. So much is unpredictable. Everything seems in flux. To me, it feels a bit like swimming in an unruly ocean. Much is happening, and quickly.

Our hearts are impacted by this. We’re on edge, and have grown terribly impatient. We expect everything quickly. Now, in fact. Average attention span on the internet is, gulp, 8 seconds.

Stillness isn't valued anymore. We have trouble being quiet. It's as if we're all running from something. It seems that being alone with our own thoughts is, well, scary.

We’ve grown unsettled, and nervous. Anxiety and depression are on the rise. Mental and emotional disorders are exploding exponentially. Our tech boasts of us being more connected, yet most feel more alone than ever. Our connection is often feeble and thin. For human beings who by nature hunger to love and be loved, this does not satisfy.

I believe there is something crying out from deep inside us. A sort of nagging discontent that something is not quite right. Something is missing. A hidden desire, buried long ago. We can't seem to put our finger on it, but it's there.

This is uncomfortable. So we run. We move a little faster and strive a little harder. We immerse ourselves in the noise around us – anything to silence this unruly discontent.

If we’re not careful, we can drown out the voice of our own hearts.

We need some solitude.

Among ancient cultures, solitude was cherished. Solitude isn’t just quiet time. It’s purposeful time alone. It doesn’t happen naturally. We have to be intentional and choose it.

The ancients actually capitalized the word, “Solitude,” and called it a “discipline.” Purposeful, quiet times alone were sought and practiced. There was an understanding that a meaningful life begins with hearing the heart.

Japanese writer Natsume Soseki once expressed this hunger for something more than activity. "In the midst to a world that moves, I alone am still." Practicing healthy solitude is a challenge, and not necessarily popular.

Wise King Solomon said, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the spring from which everything else flows.” If we lose our hearts, we lose ourselves. No amount of busy-ness is worth that.

When we get quiet, questions assault us. At first, our minds race with "What's next? What do I need to be doing now?" The gravitational pull of the usual noise is strong.
The voice of the urgent is demanding and compelling. "These things must be done, now! This must happen today! If you don't get this done pronto, you're toast!" The urgent always seems to end in an exclamation point.

If we endure the initial onslaught and dare to stay quiet a little longer, however, other types of questions begin to surface: "What's life all about? Why am I here? What's my purpose? What's really important?"

This is the voice of the important. It’s far less noisy. It whispers to us about relationships and things like love, acceptance, reconciliation, forgiveness, trust, and wisdom. It reminds us why we're here, and invites us to streamline our thoughts and lives around our purpose. It challenges us to leave a legacy that matters.

Our hearts long for a meaningful and powerfully significant life. We’re going to have to engage in some solitude to connect with that. Then we must learn to practice solitude regularly to tune into the voice of our hearts and begin to live out meaningful priorities.

Our world says, "Faster." Faster isn’t always better. Sometimes, it's just faster.

Our hearts are heaving. We've been running for a long time, and some of us aren't even sure we're on the right road. Let's give our hearts a break. They deserve to be heard.
As we take time to listen, we just might rediscover our purpose. Life could become more significant than ever.

And since we’re all getting older, there's no time to lose. What’s important today, now?

Gary Roe is a chaplain, author, and speaker with Hospice Brazos Valley. He is the author of the award-winning bestseller Heartbroken and three other books. Visit Gary at www.garyroe.com or contact him at 979-821-2266 or groe@hospicebrazosvalley.org