A purpose in being overwhelmed

I write so often about feeling overwhelmed, I wonder if people think it’s my constant condition.

Well, it’s not 24/7, at least not most days.

But daily, at some point, by one thing or another?


Last Monday I was overwhelmed by my schedule, by the keeping up with this and that. As I drove the kids to school that morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about the teetering tower of papers on the corner of my desk at home. These were “school papers”–all the ones my kids kept bringing home from school and others I’d been handed during back-to-school night two weeks before. I’d put off dealing with “the tower” because I knew I would discover several forms I needed to fill out, many new dates to put in my calendar, and–at this point–a couple of deadlines I’d already missed.

Though “the tower” was on my mind, I couldn’t do anything about it right then, because from 10:30-12:30 on Mondays, I help out in an ESL class run by World Relief (worldrelief.org). I started doing this last year, but I was in the “bridge” class then, which “bridged the gap” for refugees whose English was almost proficient enough for them to take college courses. This year I’m pretty much at the opposite end of the spectrum, helping with the lower section of the “Job Class.” Students in this class are the primary breadwinners for their families. They need jobs quickly, and this class is a crash course in conversational English and American work culture. Last week we worked on giving/receiving firm handshakes and pronouncing numbers, particularly dollar amounts. After a student completes 60 hours of training, a World Relief job counselor begins working with him/her to find a job.

I often ask these students, “When did you come to the U.S.?” and the answers range from “last week” to “six weeks ago.” After only 60 hours of class, they will enter a work environment with bosses and coworkers who speak a language they are not proficient in, in a culture very, very different from their own.

I panic for them just thinking about all that.

So back to last Monday morning. Since the World Relief class is closer to my kids’ school than it is my house, I go to a Dunkin Donuts after I drop them off and write from there until it’s time for me to go to World Relief. So there I sat, feeling overwhelmed with my own life and wondering how on earth I was going to be of any use in the job class when I was such a wreck myself. I opened BibleGateway.com to look at the “verse of the day,” trying to change my focus.

It was James 3:13 in the New Living Translation, and the second part jumped out at me: “…doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.”

Now, I don’t claim to have wisdom (being regularly overwhelmed quickly cures me of feeling I do), but this morning I was certainly feeling humble. I was amazed by the refugees’ pluck and determination.

Suddenly my overwhelmed-ness didn’t seem so negative. God had put me in exactly the right frame of mind to honor the people I would work with that morning. My humility sure didn’t come from my own wisdom but from God’s. He had put a task in front of me and then equipped me to do it in the way He wanted me to.

I stopped thinking of the leaning Tower of Papers on my desk and settled into work, and then I went off to class where I shook the hands of men who have never encountered a female boss before and need to be prepared to do just that. I helped a woman say the breathy form of “th” and we laughed and laughed together at all my antics (because it can be really funny when you stick the tip of your tongue between your teeth and hold a piece of paper in front of your mouth so it moves when you say “think” and “three.”) I listened to a man practice the difference between $3,146 and $31.46.

Maybe being overwhelmed isn’t a bad thing. Maybe it simply makes us aware we’re human.

Just like everybody else.

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