This last Sunday I had a 30 minute talk prepared. Originally, I was to be the final speaker with plenty of time, but then things were changed up and I would be the first speaker before a hard deadline that would be streamed as part of a conference. I would have 10–15 minutes. So, I went back through and minimized the font of some of my prepared talk. These areas were “if-there’s-time” sections. Sitting on the stand, I realize that by the time I get up to speak I’m going to have maybe 6 minutes. The irony hits me: my talk is on what is essential, the one thing that is needful. I realize that pretty much all I’m going to be able to share is the one ESSENTIAL point of my talk. I was calm and clear about it though, and I didn’t feel bad about having my time cut so short. I told a story, shared an experience, cracked a joke, people laughed, read a scripture, read a quote, and closed. As I sat down, I’d used all 6 minutes, no more, no less. The stake president leaned over to me and said, “That was perfect. Thank you.”
If there’d been more time though, this is what I would have shared. Read through it, what parts would you consider the key stories, thoughts, or take-home messages? The essential?
Growing up my family was not a “camping family.” I remember our first family camping trip. We were living in Michigan while my dad was doing his residency. I was 7 or 8 years old, my other brother was four, and my youngest brother was a baby at the time. My dad had borrowed a tent — being busy, he had the owner show him how to take the tent down and bought a lantern. We got to the campground, and I just remember that it was near a lake. We arrived close to six or seven and my dad started trying to get the tent up. Well, he knew real well how to take the tent down, but he couldn’t figure out how to get it set up. It started to get dark, so he grabbed the lantern out and starts to try to light the lantern. Somehow in lighting the lantern the lantern bags explode and the lantern glass cracks — now our new lantern doesn’t work.
Eventually, my dad gets someone to help put the tent up and we get our sleeping bags in the tent and fall asleep.
In the middle of the night the baby wakes up and my mom decides to feed the baby in the car. When she finishes, gets back in the tent with the baby, perhaps overwhelmed with everything she had done in packing and preparing for the trip and being low on sleep,
she realizes she forgot something — the keys, in the locked car!
So we wake up in the morning and it’s freezing cold. Good thing we brought sweaters and coats — in the car. And we have a scrumptious breakfast too — all in the car!
My dad walks several miles to the ranger station (this was before cell phones) and they call a locksmith. An hour or two later, the locksmith shows up, takes a look at the car and says, “Ok, now I know what I’ll need, I’ll be back in an hour or so.” What?!….Hours later the locksmith comes back. But at this point, I don’t remember if we even bothered to make the breakfast or if we just jumped back in the car and ended our ill-fated first and last “family camping” trip. We look back on this and laugh, but I think both my parents were a bit overwhelmed with how everything went wrong on this trip.
Recently my wife and I had our fifth child. He’s about four months old now. We’ve pretty much reached the limit of our mode of transportation. Going anywhere with 7 people is a production.
Getting to church with everyone in church clothes and with shoes on, which isn’t always successful, even if we’re walking in during the opening hymn is a major accomplishment!
Those of you with five or more children can relate. Those who can’t, in the words of comic Jim Gaffigan,
“Do you want to know what it’s like to have [five] kids? Just imagine that you’re drowning…. and someone hands you a baby.”
Have you ever felt like it’s just all too much?
Ever felt like you were just drowning in all the things that you have to do?
You’re overwhelmed. Before you even get out of bed you’re just dreading it all?
Have you ever felt like you’ve burned out?
You just can’t do it anymore?
My wife has recently lamented to me,
“It’s just so depressing. I clean the house on Friday and the next day it looks like this! It never stays clean. Why bother?”
Do you feel like your life is some endless Sisyphusian task where we must keep pushing a boulder up a hill only to get worn out and then watch it roll back down and have to do it again?
Groundhog day — same thing, over and over. Over-whelmed.
The etymology of the word overwhelm is from the Middle English word whelmen which means to turn upside, to overthrow, to submerge completely and may have originally been used to describe a boat being overwhelmed by large waves. I don’t know much about naval navigation, but I do know that a boat is better off when its bow is aligned perpendicular to oncoming waves than if the hull is misaligned to the wave.
In his book Believing Christ, Stephen Robinson tells a story when after a time in which his wife had been under a lot of pressure, she had just burned out. It was like her spiritual lights went out. She was relief society president and asked to be released from her calling. When her counselors would call she’d say they could do whatever they wanted. He confronted her to ask what was wrong and she responded,
“All right. Do you want to know what’s wrong? I’ll tell you what’s wrong — I can’t do it anymore. I can’t lift it. My load is just too heavy. I can’t do all the things I’m supposed to. I can’t get up at 5:30, and bake bread, and sew clothes, and help the kids with their homework, and do my own homework, and make their lunches, and do the housework, and do my Relief Society stuff, and have scripture study, and do my genealogy, and write my congressman, and go to PTA meetings, and get our year’s supply organized, and go to my stake meetings, and write the missionaries. . . “ She just started naming, one after the other, all the things she couldn’t do or couldn’t do perfectly — all the individual bricks that had been laid on her back in the name of perfection until they had crushed the light out of her.”
Can you relate?
Do you feel like Moses who also was overwhelmed and said to the Lord:
“I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in they sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.” Numbers 11:14–15.
Have you had parent guilt and thought, I’m so wretched at this, I’m ruining my kids?
Take comfort in that you’re not alone, it sounds like Moses felt this way. I believe we all do at some point in our lives.
Christ came that we might have life and that we might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10) How can we find and enjoy this abundance?
Why do we often feel so overwhelmed?
Because feeling overwhelmed is the warning signal that we are trying to do too much, that our life is out of balance.
As a child I loved to play video games, I remember playing a football one on regular Nintendo. I think it was Tecmo bowl and the best player that you always wanted on your team was Walter Peyton. I wouldn’t even know who Walter Peyton was if it hadn’t been for Tecmo Bowl. When ever you got a first down the ref would appear on the screen, make the first down signal, and say, “Buzzon!” Then after you’d score a touchdown you’d have to kick an extra point. The game had an arrow that oscillated back and forth across the screen and you had to push and hold the A button down and then let go at the right time to adjust the amount of power that you kicked the ball and also let go at a time when the oscillating arrow would be in between the uprights — and you had to compensate for any wind. I remember writing in my journal how this was like life — yes as a teenager I was comparing life to Tecmo bowl — you had to learn how to balance all of these inputs and kick the ball through the uprights while compensating for the wind. If we’re doing too much it’s like the arrow in that video game begins to oscillate unpredictably or the wind begins to blow erratically changing direction and the stress rises and we become out of balance and we start missing life’s extra points.
Pres. Uchtdorf taught that when we feel this way, we need to SIMPLIFY.
“Brothers and sisters, if you ever think that the gospel isn’t working so well for you, I invite you to step back, look at your life from a higher plane, and simplify your approach to discipleship. Focus on the basic doctrines, principles, and applications of the gospel. I promise that God will guide and bless you on your path to a fulfilling life, and the gospel will definitely work better for you.” — Elder Uchtdorf
As King Benjamin counseled, “See that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength” (Mosiah 4:27).
In Doctrine and Covenants the Lord warned Joseph Smith, “Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided” (D&C 10:4).
Neal A. Maxwell taught, “Thus, the Lord has given us what might be called the “wisdom and order” and “strength and means” tests. Unwisely, we often write checks against our time accounts as we never would dare do, comparably, against our bank accounts.”
Why do our lives get so busy, so over-scheduled, and so complicated?
I think it is because we have a tendency to always think that MORE is better. We tend to accumulate more than we cut. Perhaps it is easier to avoid confrontation and say yes to a non-essential request, than it is to say no.
In the story that Bro. Robinson shares in his book regarding his wife feeling completely overwhelmed, Bro. Robinson pointed out that his wife was trying to do it all on the mistaken belief that the requirements of the law of the Celestial Kingdom were all set out — the expectations were set — and she was doing her darnedest to fulfill them all and it had just become too much and so she was giving up. Perhaps we hold on to a mistaken belief that we too must “earn our way” into Heaven. We read in the Book of Mormon: “…And by thelaw no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.” (2 Ne. 2:5) We can’t, nor are we expected, to be able to do it all on our own. (9:30)
Too often we let our quest for perfection overwhelm us and inhibit what should be a simple striving for progress. Christ said, “Be ye therefore perfect.” But then He has told us that becoming so is a process that occurs line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little (2 Ne. 28:30; Isaiah 28:10), grace for grace, one day at a time — starting over with each new week taking the sacrament, demonstrating our willingness to stick with the process of becoming a perfect disciple of Christ — we try, we fail (sin), we repent, — wash, rinse, repeat. And by taking advantage of the atonement via repentance, the gaping chasm between our best efforts and sinlessness is bridged by Christ’s grace. Being a disciple requires this discipline. Failure only comes in abandoning the process — given enough time (we have eternity) we’re guaranteed to get there.
Another reason why we may become overwhelmed — juggling too many balls in the air — in our lives is that we deny the existence of tradeoffs.
In economics this is the opportunity cost of a decision. Whenever we make a choice, we choose what tradeoffs we are willing to make. Essentially, we cannot have our cake and eat it too. A scriptural example of this is Alma the Younger, the first chief judge. After a time acting as both head of the state and head of the Church, Alma sees that his people are becoming wicked and he realizes that he cannot continue to remain as both the head of the church and go out and minister and teach his people and continue to run the government from the judgement seat. Alma had to make a decision, he recognized the tradeoff and the scriptures say, “the spirit of the Lord did not fail him.” And then he delegated the judgement seat to a wise man, and “this he did that he himself might go forth among his people…seeing no other way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony…” (Alma 4:15–20). Alma made the tradeoff of giving up the judgement seat to go teach and minister to his people. (11:30)
In his book Essentialism Greg McKeown, an LDS bishop in Silicon Valley, explains that a non-essentialist tries to be “All things to All People” and thinks: “It’s all important” and asks, “How can I fit it all in?” While an essentialist goes for
“Less but better”
and thinks: “Only a few things really matter.” And instead of asking how to fit it all in, considers “What are the tradeoffs?” What is essential? The non-essentialist lives a life of the undisciplined pursuit of more, while the essentialist lives a life of the disciplined pursuit of less but better. A non-essentialist, like the thorns that choke out the seed in the parable of the sower, is the story of the person that is caught up in the thick of thin things. A non-essentialist will say yes to people without really thinking and reacts to the most urgent thing, while an essentialist pauses to discern what really matters and will say no to everything except the essential. Going back to our botched camping trip, it wasn’t essential for my dad to learn how to take DOWN the tent, but perhaps learning how to SET UP the tent would have been.
Christ was an essentialist
He always chose and focused on what was truly essential. When he came in to Bethany, the sisters of Lazarus, Martha (the older sister?) received him into their home. Luke 10:39–42: “And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving.” She’s busy, she’s playing hostess, and she’s feeling a little perturbed because her sister is just sitting there listening to Jesus rather than helping. So Martha appeals to Jesus and says, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful” in essence he’s saying, “one thing is essential” and “Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” In this case, Martha was trying to uphold tradition and the expectations of a hostess when a visitor comes, but Jesus here basically is saying, “Martha, it’s ok to drop the ball on that tradition. To let down the expectations of a hostess. Don’t worry about preparing a meal for us all. Let those other things go. You’ll not remember that meal preparation, but Mary and those who sit at his feet will remember that experience” — which would not be taken away from them. That is what was important/essential then. Jesus wasn’t asking Martha to do it all, he was teaching her about tradeoffs and urging her to choose the good part — that will last.
Jesus is also showing Martha that she has a choice in this matter — she can choose — and not making a choice and sticking with how things were in the moment — sticking with the status quo — would also be a choice. Greg McKeown said,
“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”
We need to be sure that as Ashley Montague said, “the things that matter most … are not at the mercy of things that matter least.”
So how do we determine the essential — the things that matter most?
One way we can do this is by taking time to slow down and pause to ask ourselves that question. We read throughout the Gospels that Jesus often made a point of finding time to slow down, go into the wilderness, or otherwise be alone:
“And he said unto [the Twelve], Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. (This sounds like a mother of children. You ever have “no leisure so much as to eat?”)
“And they departed into a desert place by ship privately” (Mark 6:31–32).
Here we see that Jesus clearly recognized the weariness of His disciples. Neal A. Maxwell taught, “informal, brief retreats can be fashioned by providing greenbelts of time between busyness, even if these are only a few minutes long.”(Wisdom & Order talk)
We need time and space to think.
To me this concept of slowing down and pausing to consider the essential reminds me of two similar concepts: Sharpening the Saw and Self-Care. In his classic book The 7 Habits of Highly-Effective People, Stephen R. Covey’s 7th Habit is the renewal habit — the concept of self-care of rest and renewal. It harkens back to the concept of a bow — if a bow is constantly pulled tight, the bow will lose its spring and become useless. It is only in letting go that the bow can retain its spring. Parents take a reminder from the ever popular Disney Princess Elsa and “Let it Go.” Or take a reminder from the FAA and remember to put on your oxygen mask first before assisting others. Jesus tells Peter — “when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” or to Hyrum “seek first to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed”. Self-care before other care. We cannot raise those around us if we ourselves are sinking. Self-care is essential.
In the Book of Mormon there is a small story that one can piece together by reading between the lines, in Alma 2:29–31: the people of Nephi have gone to war against the people of Amlici. Alma and Amlici are caught in a sword duel.
“And it came to pass that Alma fought with Amlici with the sword, face to face; and they did contend mightily, one with another.” And then… it doesn’t say it but it seems to me that Alma must have been wounded. Alma then says a prayer, “being exercised with much faith, cried, saying: O Lord, have mercy and spare my life, that I may be an instrument in thy hands to save and preserve this people.” And here’s why I think he was wounded, because it then says, “Now when Alma had said these words he contended again with Amlici; and he was strengthened, insomuch that he slew Amlici with the sword. And in the very next chapter another battle commences between the Amlicites who joined with the Lamanites and the Nephites, except this time we read, “Now Alma himself being afflicted with a wound did not go up to battle at this time against the Lamanites;” (Alma 3:22). Alma recognized he couldn’t do it all, what was important then was to heal up. Alma couldn’t fully and effectively lead his men when he wasn’t fully recovered. Self-care is essential.
What’s Important Now?
Larry Gelwix was a Rugby coach in Highland Utah. He had an incredible record: 419 wins and 10 losses. When he was asked how he did it he said, “We WIN. W-I-N.” What’s Important Now? When you’ve made a mistake on the last play, What’s Important Now — get over it and do your best. — Make decisions now that support what you want in the future.
President Ezra Taft Benson said:
“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love for the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities” (“The Greatest Commandment — Love the Lord,” Ensign, May 1988, 4).
As you are struggling to juggle all the demands of your life and responsibilities at work, home, and at church remember this counsel. By putting God first, the balls that you needn’t be juggling will naturally be dropped and fall out of our lives.
Because of tradeoffs we need to realize that when we choose God or Christ or the things that Matter Most — the things that are important now for what we want tomorrow- we’ll need to let other things go, cut them out, or drop those balls in order to ensure that the important things aren’t let go, cut out, or dropped.
Take the word decide. The root word of decide is the Latin cis or -cid/cide meaning to “cut” or “kill”. A decision, for instance, is a ‘cutting off’ of all possibilities except for one; if you are decisive you have ‘killed’ all other options. As one mission president said, “Too many goods leaves no room for the best.”
Decide to cut out the non-essential-
When my wife and I first moved to Cleveland we had 2 children. My wife loves theatre and was SO excited to have Playhouse Square nearby. We’d heard that one could volunteer to work as a Redcoat and usher at the shows. We volunteered and got the opportunity on Thursday nights to usher at Playhouse Square. Then, if there was a show we wanted to see, we could offer to usher that show, even if it wasn’t one of our “assigned” nights. We were able to see a bunch of shows just for the cost of $2 parking! We did this for just over two years swapping who watched the kids and working out different nights — occasionally getting a babysitter. However, eventually, my wife and I came together and we realized that our life was getting too crazy. We didn’t see each other very often — one night I’d be ushering, the next night she would be ushering, one night we’d be involved with mutual/church callings and we needed to decide whether ushering as a Redcoat at Playhouse Square was what was important now for our family. And with that- that season of our lives ended. We stopped ushering in order to focus on our family. Ecclesiastes 3 reads: “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven,…” Perhaps someday we’ll enjoy volunteering at Playhouse Square again, but that’s not what’s most important to us now — that’s not a tradeoff we’re willing to make. (20:10)
It is essential that we listen to the Spirit.
What we may judge — or what others may think — is right or essential, may not be what the Spirit is telling us is right or essentia. Regardless of good or bad circumstances,
when everything else falls apart, family and the gospel of Jesus Christ are the essentials.
Remember Father Lehi (1 Ne. 2:4) where he “departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family.”
Additionally, make time for sleep and play — important aspects of self-care, and then focus on family and the Gospel.
Ask for help
Remember my family camping story? My dad finally realized that he needed help figuring out how to set up that tent, gratefully, he was willing to ask for and accept that help. We should not be ashamed to ask for and accept help. No man is an island, and it takes a village to raise a child.
If someone asks, “Anything I can do to help?” Think of something and be honest with what they could do to help lighten your load. There may even be things that you haven’t done in a long time because they haven’t been urgent or important enough to have been done — things you have willingly let drop for the time being — let them do one of these things.
Russel M. Nelson said, “Ask the missionaries, they can help you!”
I know that there are so many of us who are feeling overwhelmed, who perhaps feel like they can’t get the tents in their lives to set up, perhaps the lanterns are exploding, and the keys with all the answers are locked away. Maybe you feel a bit like God is acting like that locksmith who seemingly took his dandy time.
But, if this isn’t you, if you aren’t feeling overwhelmed then perhaps you may have the opposite problem: where you feel that you aren’t doing enough in your discipleship, in improving your talents and in magnifying your stewardship and influence. In that case — run faster, throw out the sails, align your boat to Christ — face the waves and paddle — be the Lord’s wind. Don’t run faster than you have strength, but run — after all you can do. Be anxiously engaged. Listen to the Spirit. Is it saying, run faster? or is it saying “sit a spell?” There may be areas in our life where we need to run faster and areas in another where we need to just “sit a spell”. I testify that by listening to the Spirit we can know what to cut out, which balls to let drop in order to focus on the essential — the good part that will not be taken away. There is but one thing that is needful — to align the heading of our boats with the Gospel of Jesus Christ — by doing this we will be able to breast the waves and storms in our lives and not be overwhelmed. Again as Ezra Taft Benson said,
“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives.”
and as Neal A. Maxwell taught,
“In the end, if you have not chosen Christ, it will not matter what you have chosen.”
I say this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.