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Too Much Work, Too Little Time
Learning to enjoy each day more
Encouraging Word:You can make your work dreams come true.
Everyday Step:Take a fresh look at your life.
You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand. —Woodrow Wilson
A varied group of people gathered with me for a night course about living more positively. The members were different in many ways, but a thread ran through their stories: everyone in this group had a demanding job. During our few evenings together, cell phones of every kind tried to intrude, and work issues took members out of the room regularly.
This wonderful class was made up of people with interesting and useful work. Their professional activities were downright inspirational—from help in hospice care and with cancer treatment to high-school administration and a focus on homeless people. The members were deeply committed to their families and were trying to grow as part of a church community.
But each individual was juggling so much—trying to do well at work, with family issues, with daily logistics, and with finding time for self-care. As I visited with the members of the group, I was reminded again of the importance of stepping back and assessing life and work on a regular basis.
Most people go so fast all the time that they do not take time to consider a different way of living. They feel too bogged down to make changes. Nearly everywhere I go, people talk about how busy they are and how demanding their work is. Some folks love their careers but are overwhelmed by trying to set priorities. Others are worn out and have lost the enjoyment they once got from their jobs.
Many simply have too much work to do and too little time. Some work because they feel they have to—either to make a living or because it is somehow expected of them. Others work because they feel called to do a certain job or want to make a difference in the world. Most of the people I have encountered work for a combination of the two— money to support their lifestyle or their daily needs and to do something meaningful.
Our motivation to work often starts with the right reason— perhaps it's a job we really love or we are happy to get—but that reason can get lost in the hectic pace of daily life. This reminds me of my young granddaughter when she gets going too fast on her bicycle. She begins to swerve all over the place and then makes a less-than-graceful stop. Instead of moderating her speed and regaining control, she crashes.
People who want to slow down at work tend to take this same approach. They go so fast they crash—through job burnout, relationship problems, or a health issue. Then they are sometimes willing to slow down and assess their situation. However, often before long, they find themselves out of control again.
A better way is to start today taking inventory of your work life and see what changes you want to make. This awareness will spill over into all areas of your life and will be a catalyst for amazing things. When you hurry less and worry less at work, you will notice a ripple effect.
For years now I have worked with busy people on learning to handle this issue. A good tried-and-true first step is to take a fresh look at your life and work. You need a new perspective in order to make important decisions and to use simple tools to change. Like my granddaughter, you may be going too fast and in danger of a crash, but you can still get your "bicycle" under control.
For encouragement, remember all of the great people in the Bible—everyday, working people. They were carpenters and tentmakers and fishermen. Work played a part in their lives—but only a part. They used it to complement the people they were created to be.
Making needed changes does not mean quitting your job or becoming slothful at work or ignoring the need for money to buy groceries. Change can mean adding more effective practices to your daily work, getting more done in less time, fretting less, and listening closely to make sure you are where you are supposed to be.
Start Praying About Your Work, Expecting God to Guide You
In my own efforts to slow down and enjoy work more, I found myself resisting God's guidance, wanting to get my own daily messiness straightened up first. My overloaded calendar and disorganized desk screamed for attention.
God was more subtle.
Somewhere along the way, I realized God wanted to help me, wanted good things for me, and did not want me to be rushing around in an on-the-job dither. Nor did the Lord want me to neglect other important parts of my life in the name of my career.
Even more noticeable was the need to involve God in each step of this journey and to avoid thinking I would handle some of it on my own and then turn to God for morespiritual or important efforts.
Without prayer and God's help, the calm, meaningful life we want slams up against a turbocharged schedule and a mile-long to-do list. Our personal lives, professional lives, and spiritual lives cannot be separated. They are the strands that make up who we are— and one does not work without the other. Great peace and contentment await us when we begin to figure that out.
A favorite scripture speaks directly of this: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will" (Romans 12:2). As you consider changes, ponder this verse. Stepping back can help renew your mind— and it can lead you to the place where you are supposed to be.
Consider These "ABCs" of Getting and Staying on Track
Assess. This tool is often overlooked by busy people. We get so rushed that we fail to set aside time for the important process of figuring out what we want our lives to look like and how we are going to achieve our goals. Set aside at least a few hours to take a snapshot of where your life and career are and to develop a plan to get yourself where you want to be.
Believe that you can live the life you long for. I see lots of people who are just getting by each day because they do not believe they can make needed changes. Decide that you can achieve dreams, do things you have longed to do, hurry and worry less.
Change as needed. Most people don't care much for change—we like the way things are. I encounter some who say, "That's the way we've always done it" or "We tried that, and it doesn't work." Maybe now is the time to make changes in your job—either with the work you do altogether or in your daily routine. Or maybe you merely need to change your attitude about work.
Next, deliver. We are called to deliver something back to the world, to make it a better place because we walked through our corner of it. As you rethink your priorities, consider what you are doing with the gifts you've been given. Most of us, even on our worst days, have more gifts than many others in the world. You don't have to have all the answers or be a saint to make a huge difference each day, wherever you are, whoever you are. Our world desperately needs kind and generous people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty, people who live by the Golden Rule, treating others as they want to be treated.
Finally, enjoy each day. Children typically look forward and laugh and have fun. As we get older, often we tend to look more at the negative side of life. Look for the good in each day. Give thanks for the blessings that surround you. Have some fun.
While these ABCs are simple, they are not always easy. Each person is different, and the challenges of work and life vary. However, you can make customized changes suited for you. As you move forward, remember that God blazes the way for you: "The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you" (Deuteronomy 1:30). With a holy Guidance Counselor, just imagine what can happen.
Use the Gift of Prayer
Begin with prayer. If you aren't accustomed to praying on a regular basis, do not be overwhelmed. Prayer is simply communicating with God. Start now, asking God to guide you as you attempt to slow down. Reflect upon what God wants your life to look like. Ask to be transformed—changed from within and in your daily actions as needed. Seek the Lord's perfect will.
The Bible clearly tells us to call upon God for everything, that the Lord is interested in our daily lives: "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight" (Isaiah 42:1). God, through great love, delights in us and upholds us. As Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10). This is what God wants for us—abundant life.
Since work plays such an important part in our daily lives, we need to find ways to enjoy it, to see our work as a blessing and to use our gifts to make a difference. How can we possibly live fully if we do not learn how to deal with the daily busyness?
Refresh the Big Picture for Your Life
Pondering the Big Picture is a rewarding exercise that can help you renew hope and put away regrets. This can help in the days ahead when you must take care of nitty-gritty details.
Thank God for your past—warts and all—knowing it has helped you in many ways. Ask for help in the future—a season that can be quite inviting. Tinker a bit or make wholesale changes, covered by God's love. Knowing that God has a perfect, customized will for your life is energizing. While it may not be totally clear to you each and every day, you can always know its core: love God, and love others as you love yourself.
For many people, work is a huge part of the Big Picture. Our job is often our calling, the way we are created to serve. Our Big Picture needs to reflect this—but it also needs to include other important components, such as family and volunteer efforts.
You may have an uneasy feeling such as I had several years back, when I knew I needed to do things differently but I wasn't sure what shape this might take. Begin to look a little deeper, and pray for God's help in this process.
The familiar words of Jeremiah 29:11 are encouraging as you revisit possibilities for your work: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
These words reassured me many times as I considered the Big Picture for my life. What a comfort to know that God's plans are for prosperity and safety, a hopeful future. This promise can fortify you when you step back and try to hurry less and worry less. Consideration of life and work is extremely personal, and the road map for your life may be completely different from that of a coworker or friend. Our uniqueness is part of what God has given us and what we give back to the world. Keep this in mind as you ponder changes. "Everyone's situation is a bit different," said a spiritual director and Christian educator with a wise perspective on work-life balance. "Folks have different energy levels, some are more introverted and others more extroverted, family and work dynamics can be quite different, and experiences that can renew one person might bore or stress out someone else."
Ask and Answer Key Questions
Are you familiar with the game Twenty Questions? You may have played it as a child. Someone thinks of a person, place, or thing, and others may ask up to twenty questions as they try to guess the answer. A similar approach can help you establish the Big Picture for your life, set priorities, and help make sure you stay on the path that is right for you.
Give thought to the following twenty questions or come up with your own. Write down your answers and see what bubbles up.
What am I happiest about in my life?
What have I accomplished that matters to me?
Am I using my time and energy in the ways I want?
What gives me energy?
What drains my energy?
How are my relationships?
Who needs more of my attention?
Why did I choose the work I now do?
What is working well in my job?
What changes do I need to consider in my work?
Am I taking care of my physical health?
Do I need to add exercise to my life?
Am I making time for rest, reflection, and renewal?
Am I involved in a church where I worship, grow, and give something back?
Do I serve others at home, in my church, or in my community?
Is my money situation under control?
What gifts and talents do I have?
How can I use those gifts and talents to do and enjoy meaningful work?
Am I learning in my daily life?
Do I have fun?
Some of these questions are easy to answer. Others require more thought. Do not shy away from asking hard questions to come up with revealing answers about your priorities and how well you are honoring those. This simple process can lead to better decisions and help you be more effective at work. Answering these questions can provide insight into how you are spending the precious days you have been given.
"We are not accidents or coincidences," said a Louisiana attorney. "Each of us has been created by God to fulfill part of his purpose on earth. That means we are not put here to play, although he does want us to enjoy his gifts. Jesus was a party guy, but he didn't live to party. He lived to serve."
This same lawyer tells of his challenge in shaping a vision with service to God and love for his family: "My professional life is a calling for me. The struggle for me has been to reach some balance between my calling and the needs of my family. I believe I am serving God by being a good lawyer and counselor for my clients. God has given me such grace and mercy that I have tried to extend grace and mercy to others."
"The Ability to Step Back"
Another professional mentions the importance of God's part in our Big Picture: "It all begins with focusing on what we're called to do on this earth, all of us." That, along with stepping back to reshape his vision on a regular basis, helps him keep priorities in order. "One of the gifts God gave me is the ability to step back," he said, stressing the importance of relying on the life of Christ as a model for work. "That will lead you to the right priorities. To be a workaholic, compulsive, impulsive is not what you want."
God sometimes lays projects out right before us, perhaps showing problems that need our gifts to be solved. As a consultant, I appreciate the biblical story of Nehemiah, who had a good job with the king but was troubled by something he felt called to do. We read how God used this man to help rebuild the walls—and thus change the heart—of the city of Jerusalem. As an Old Testament "consultant," he saw a problem and knew that his help was needed.
Nehemiah was quite afraid, though, when he went to the king, just like many of us are when we face new challenges. So Nehemiah prayed, and he took the challenge anyway, giving up his prestigious position because he felt God calling him. When Nehemiah traveled to Jerusalem to get the project going, he said, "The God of heaven will give us success" (Nehemiah 2:20). He had been troubled by something, prayed about it, and set out, certain he was exactly where God wanted him to be. Nehemiah had vision and faith, and he did the hard work required to accomplish his task.
Perhaps you have followed your early dreams or a calling throughout the years. Or maybe you changed your mind at a later time and found something even better for you. Possibly you let time and situations wear you down and extinguish some of those "what if" possibilities.
No matter your age, dust off your youthful perspective and see what it says to you about the work you are doing. Recall what excited you on your youthful thresholds, what you felt destined to do, and what you were enthusiastic about.Contemplate how your life has changed and how that affects the Big Picture you want for your life—and the calling God has for you.
The Picture of Success
Understand there will likely be trade-offs as you try to slow down.
For me, being a newspaper executive and working in the journalism industry at a national level was rewarding for many years—and, I admit, I liked the success. However, when God began to nudge me to make changes, success began to look different. I could not measure it by income and status but by doing each day what I felt God was calling me to do.
Excerpted from Hurry Less, Worry Less at Work by Judy Christie. Copyright © 2009 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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