I feel absolutely dry and overextended. I’m a people-pleaser by nature, and I feel like my busyness is letting others down. My overload is affecting my intimacy with Cathy, and I don’t feel as close to my daughters right now. I’m busy being with people, but I’m feeling lonely. Many a day I do not look forward to work because I know that I will have to deal with the urgent and not the most important. I’m tired and fatigued. I want to work out and eat better, but I keep putting off what is healthy for what is easy. I’m craving friendships, and I’m too busy to even attempt to get together with some of the guys. God is getting some of my attention, but not what I dreamed it would be by this time in my life. I used to be a lot more fun. —From my journal
Living at Breakneck Speed
Perhaps the greatest problem in parenting is the breathless pace at which we live our lives. I love the story of the first grader who wondered why her father brought home a briefcase full of work every evening. Her mother explained, “Daddy has so much to do that he can’t finish it all at the office.”
“Well, then,” asked the child innocently, “why don’t they put him in a slower group?” As the pace of life gets more and more unhealthy, perhaps it is time to join the slower group.
The Definition of Crisis-Mode Living
Are you experiencing what some like to call the “overload syndrome”? It’s what happens when you do not have what Richard Swenson calls margin. Margin is the space that exists between our load and our limits. Margin is the space between vitality and exhaustion. It is our breathing room, our reserves, our leeway.1 Healthy families have figured out how to live with balance and margin, but unfortunately, such families are few and far between. As a friend of mine says, “We work hard, we play hard and we crash hard.”
It was the great philosopher Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers who told his teams over and over again, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” When I’m fatigued and living in crisis mode, I am a lousy husband to Cathy, a poor excuse for a father to my children and a mediocre president of HomeWord. I have a sign in my office that reads, “If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” Most families are so busy doing good things that they miss doing what is most important.
You probably already know if the overload syndrome is plaguing your life and your family, but if you’re not sure, ask yourself these questions:
- Have you stopped enjoying life because you are too busy?
- Have you stopped developing new relationships?
- Are you exhausted most of the time?
- Do you and your spouse have a regular date night?
- Does your family have an enjoyable dinner together on a regular basis?
- Do you get enough sleep?
- Do you take a restful day off?
- Do you have regularly scheduled family times together?
- Do you have credit problems or a large debt load?
- Are your children showing signs of stress?
If you struggle with many of these questions, you are among the majority of families who are living in crisis mode. Let me be blunt: You are flirting with disaster. That disaster will be either yours, your spouse’s or your children’s. Crisis-mode living paralyzes families.
1 Richard A. Swenson, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1995), p. 13.