It happens to all of us. Life is moving along swimmingly until it hits. “It” might be something thrown at us from the outside—a layoff, your child’s crisis, or realizing that all of the graduate programs you’ve applied to waitlisted you—or it can be internal—realizing that you’re not happy in your job/career, finishing college without a clue of what you want to do, or the first days of your new business.
“It” is that feeling of complete confusion, uncertainty, fear, angst that seemingly overshadows us. We’re looking for signs guiding us, but they aren’t always so clear.
When I find myself overwhelmed (and as a parent of two under two years old, with a full-time job and a side business, while still being an active volunteer, it happens pretty often), I have a small checklist that I work through to keep me from being completely paralyzed under the stress of figuring out “what’s next”:
- Pray. Seriously pray. I don’t mean a rushed Hail Mary or the slow-enough-for-your-20-month-old-to-follow-along blessing before a meal. I’m talking the peaceful, calming, takes time you probably don’t think you have type of praying. Sit outside with a cup of coffee and your rosary/Liturgy of the Hours/iPad. If you can sneak out of the house, go to a chapel at your parish. Or a park bench overlooking something beautiful. Find a place for you that can quickly let you let your guard down and simply be in the presence of the Spirit.
- Pray.I have this on my checklist twice. Why? Typically, I find my relaxing place, sit for a few minutes relaxing and pop up thinking to myself “I feel so much better. Now time to dig back in” without actually praying or waiting in silence after praying.Now that you’re relaxed physically and engaged spiritually, it’s time to….
- Figure out the options. The traffic sign above is pretty confusing at first glance. But, if you think about it, it’s all about discerning your options. (Granted, trying to do that with this particular sign while driving is a feat not meant for mortal men.) First, with this sign, you have four possible destinations, but you have to choose which lane to be in. The connection between choosing a lane and your final destination is common sense, but it’s too easy for us to lose sight of that.In life, there are seldom obvious signs. It’s rare for a sign to be as “simple” as the one above. It’s far more common that our signs are whispers that we may or may not paid attention to when they presented themselves.Make a list. Don’t filter it yet. Anything that seems like an option, list it. It’s okay if it has an item like “Put it in reverse and find an intersection without a sign like that”.
- Scratch off the items that aren’t realistic at all. Even though you mentally already knew that when you wrote it, it’s important to write it. The day may come where it is realistic again. As a husband and father of young children, selling everything we own, buying an RV and traveling the country doing odd jobs everywhere we stop just isn’t realistic.
- Evaluate.You’ve been doing this already, but time to get more intentional. With the options remaining, list pros and cons. Ask yourself if you think God is calling you to that or if that would be a good use of your God-given talents. Pray for wisdom in this process.In some cases, the obvious options are the one that remain. In other cases, new options that we may not have thought about originally appear on the short list.Evaluation includes whether or not a particular option is acceptable to the outside world. In the Latin Rite, to become a priest, you need to be single and commit to a life of celibacy (our Pastoral Provision friends notwithstanding). “Enter seminary” can’t remain on any married man’s list.
- Discuss it with those close to you. Spouses and close friends often know us better than we do. If you have a spiritual director (recommended), he or she is an important resource as well.
- Pick One.After all of that, just pick the one that has floated to the top.
- Pray. Now that you’ve “made” the decision, pray about it again. Listen. Is this the best option for me? The best way to use the gifts given by God?
- Return to the top and do it again.The process never ends and the more I constantly work through the checklist, the less stressed I become when life throws a curve ball that should be overwhelming. God wants us to be happy, to be fulfilled, to exercise our gifts to his glory, but to do that, we have to form ourselves to be listening to God, self, and our community in figuring out how to make that reality.
I use the checklist for the bigger picture items. Day-to-day tasks are different and this process isn’t only overkill, but would cripple your productivity. Additionally, this is really simplistic. I’m making it sound easy. It isn’t always. That’s okay.
What did I miss? Share in the comments. There wouldn’t be a whole sub-genre of self-help books out there to this topic if a 1000-word blog post could cover it all.