One of my least favorite days of the year is the day I come home from vacation.
Not only do I regret the immediate thrust back into the real world. But I take issue with the unpacking.
I LOATHE the unpacking.
After hours or days of family bonding in the GMC Acadia, each of us grabs armfuls of stuff: Suitcases, dirty clothes, toys, books, DVDs, DVD players, food, garbage, souvenirs, pillows, blankets, maps, directions, iPods, ear buds, and water bottles. It takes several trips from car to house. No one is happy about the trips. It’s disorganized and chaotic.
And everything gets dumped into the kitchen.
Then everyone runs off to do their thing—the kids to play or retreat to their familiar space, and Jon to thumb through mail or last week’s sports section.
And I’m left standing in the kitchen with the mountain of clutter.
One thing I have come to accept about myself is that I cannot function in clutter. It’s not that I prefer not to have clutter. Or even that clutter makes me crabby or less productive. It’s that my brain ceases to function in clutter. Like, the piles overwhelm me, completely. Like, I can’t formulate coherent thoughts. Like, I can’t see past the clutter. Like, at all.
The mountains of clutter seem so big immediately after vacation that I become temporarily paralyzed. I mean, I really cannot do one single productive thing until the mountains are gone. I panic when I consider how many days it’s going to be this way. I regret going on vacation in the first place. I sometimes cry. I question whether to go back on antidepressants. I decide I absolutely need to go back on antidepressants.
I seriously get THAT overwhelmed by the mountains.
I’ve learned the only way to move from mountains to mental clarity is to systematically unpack the bags, one at a time.
I deliberately go to one bag, open it up and remove one item from that bag. Then I hold the item in my hand, decide where the item needs to go, and then I walk to that place and put the item away.
Then I take the next item, hold it in my hand, and walk it to its place.
And the next and the next, until the bag is empty.
Then I take the bag and put that away, too.
Only then, do I move onto the next bag. And I do the whole deliberate systematic thing again. Each item, one at a time, put away. Then the next and the next.
Sometimes, in the process of unpacking, I make the mistake of looking around and seeing everything I haven’t gotten to yet. When I do that, the walls begin closing in on me. I have to give myself an emergency pep talk and say, “Just worry about this item in your hand. Don’t look at everything undone. Just focus on this one item. This one bag. Don’t look at the remaining mountains. Deal with the item in your hand. Some day you will be done with it and the mountains will be gone.”
Lately, life feels a lot like coming home from vacation—except without the vacation part.
I am looking around and I see mountains. And, man, are they huge. Mountains of accomplishment and calling and responsibility and commitment and relationship and identity. It’s all so daunting and paralyzing.
How do I help my daughter discover her worth in Christ and not in people’s opinions about her?
How do I preserve a relationship with a teen who has decided for now that I am her enemy, not her advocate?
How do I help my son stay focused on math and navigate friendships while he adjusts to the challenges of middle school and adolescents and ADD?
How do I protect my kids from the lure of social media and the internet when, as we speak, there are techy people working on 1000 new apps and sites to draw them in?
How do I become united to a man who, though we’ve been married for 20 years, still has ideas and goals and dreams I don’t fully understand or embrace?
How am I supposed to reach the world for Christ when I feel inadequate to handle the few precious people God has entrusted to my care?
The magnitude of the responsibility placed on my shoulders completely overwhelms me. My brain ceases to function. I can’t see past the mountains. I seriously cannot think. I cannot see clearly to make plans or set goals.
Which is odd for me, because normally, I like planning. I’m pro-goal setting. Those things come quite naturally to me, actually. But now, I can’t see the big picture or the eternal value in anything. I can’t see past these piles, this clutter, this moment.
I can’t move.
Recently, after a series of highly personal mountain-making situations, I wake up numb. I can’t feel pain or frustration or confusion or anything. I just feel…nothing. Nothing except a sense that maybe something is standing on my chest. Like the very act of breathing will take effort and focus today.
Paralyzed by the mountains of clutter in my life.
So, I implement the same strategy I have to attack the literal clutter: One decision at a time. Just do the next right/good/healthy thing…
Get up out of bed.
Brush my teeth.
Make the coffee.
Look my children in the eye.
Kiss them on their heads.
Say good morning.
Each decision deliberate, intentional…
Take the bread out of the bag.
Take the almond butter from the refrigerator.
Spread the almond butter on the bread.
Put breakfast on plates.
I am tempted to tackle the bigger issues. They are so monumental, I certainly cannot ignore them or pretend they don’t exist. They block the Light. It’s so difficult to have clarity in the shadows. I resist the urge to panic. Instead, I turn away from the mountains and I choose to focus on the next right/good/healthy thing…
Serve the breakfast.
Wipe the crumbs from the counter.
Pour the coffee.
Open the Bible.
Read the Bible.
The fact that I am easily overwhelmed used to feel like a curse. Why wouldn’t God just bestow on me the ability to climb the stupid mountain or cast the stupid mountain away or even look beyond the stupid mountain and see life from the proper perspective? Why wouldn’t He just heal me of this flaw when it so obviously hinders my freedom and renders me useless?
But now I see this condition—this flaw—as a gift. It’s one of the many things God uses to keep me tethered to the foot of the Cross. Whenever I’m tempted to think I can cruise through life on my own—through forethought or talent or inner resolve or will-power or whatever—God gently reminds me that I need Him for each individual step. He doesn’t simply tolerate me in my weakness—He loves me in my weakness.
God hand-selected my weaknesses with the same care and purpose that He hand-selected my gifts and talents. For His glory, not mine. To build His kingdom, not mine….
Put a load of towels into the washing machine.
Measure out the detergent.
Remove one shirt from the dryer.
Fold the shirt.
Place the shirt in the basket.
God reminds me on Mountain-Moving Days how utterly dependent I am on Him for every single thing. It’s tempting to forget this when life’s terrain is flat and unobstructed…
Put on running shoes.
Take a step.
Taking each individual element of life, holding it, looking intently at it, and deciding where it goes helps me to manage life’s bigness. Without hoopla. Or fanfare. Or extraordinary feats of strength.
And some day, I will look back over these days of suffocating, paralyzing life-clutter and realize the simple act of taking care of the one thing in my hand—only, deliberately, intently—done again and again and again—has eliminated the mountain altogether. God has moved the mountain, and I hardly noticed.
And I can breathe without thinking about it.