Keeping sane and productive in an insane world, principle #8: When overwhelmed, ask, what do I need to do today?
When the world seems big, it’s O.K. to make it small. You can do that by focusing on today.
You have a million things that will confront you in the future. You have a million things that you can imagine will confront you but will not. So, what do you do when the future of your kids, your job, your church, your friends, and your health overwhelm you? You can set it aside and focus on today.
What does that look like? I have had plenty of times where I have felt overwhelmed. When I started worrying about relationships, my children, or the church, I just started asking, “What do I really need to do today?” My list of worries was large. My list of actions for today was relatively small. My answer would be something like this, “I need to pray, exercise, spend time with my family and friends, do certain tasks related to work.” As I got about doing these tasks, I would feel less overwhelmed. I would be more sane and productive.
If you think about it, this is a good practice even when we are not overwhelmed. Focusing on what actually needs to get done today is a great way to organize our mind and hearts and ground them in what matters. You can imagine the future, but you can live today.
The Roman philosopher Seneca was captivated by this idea. Seneca asks, what harm is there in looking forward to tomorrow? “Infinite harm; for such people do not live, but are preparing to live. They postpone everything” (Letter XLV). Worse is when people look forward to living in a far off time when they can settle down to “a life of ease” (Letter CI).
So, what should we do? Seneca says, “let us so order our minds as if we had come to the very end. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s account every day. . . . Therefore, my dear Lucilius, begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life” (Ibid.). This will enable us to see tomorrow better, too. “If God is pleased to add another day, we should welcome it with glad hearts” (Letter XII). This will focus our energies where we need to focus them and keep us from worrying about things that we do not need to worry about.
This is what Jesus taught as well. “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matthew 6:34). Focus on the tasks you have today. Tomorrow will take care of itself.
I remember running on a rural road in Pennsylvania. We were staying in a remote cabin. We had literally no internet service. No wi-fi. No cell connection. It cleared my head. I started thinking, what would I do if I only had this day without any connection to the outside world? What would I do? The answer came back: I would run. I would enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. I would spend time with my wife and children. I would accept the good God had for me. That’s what I had: today. That’s what I had, and that was good.
Asking, what do I need to so today is a principle that we can use to get us grounded at any time and especially when we are fully of anxiety and overwhelmed. Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I pray that it will be a blessing to you the next time you feel overwhelmed. If you liked this post, please share it on social media or subscribe below. You can also read some of the other principles that I have used for keeping sane and productive in an insane world here. I hope to see you hear again.