1. Do you fold socks (or perform any household task) after
2. Do you skip meals to fulfill responsibilities?
3. Are you ever late because of overlapping responsibilities?
4. Do you travel over the speed limit even when you're not
in a hurry?
5. Do you feel torn between family and responsibilities?
6. Do you fall asleep as soon as you sit down?
7. Do you drink coffee/caffeine to stay awake?
8. Do you get sick easily?
9. Do you fight irritability?
10. Do you have difficulty sleeping?
11. Do you dream or lie awake worrying about work or things
you need to do the next day?
12. Do you feel guilty if you do "nothing"?
While all women face busy seasons, it's important to be aware
of the physical, spiritual, and emotional burdens that accompany
a lifestyle that's stretched too thin. If you answered yes
to 4 or more, you're dealing with symptoms of a stressful
lifestyle. If you answered yes to 6 or more, it's time to
evaluate family and spiritual priorities. If you answered
yes to 8 or more, take back control of your life!
Life in the Fast Lane: How
to Keep from Running Yourself Ragged
By T. Suzanne Eller
It probably comes as no surprise that more than 40 percent
of women who work outside the home are mothers of children under
age 18. And 83 percent of new mothers return to work within 6
months after giving birth to a child!
This balancing act can take its toll. A recent study by the American
Heart Association concluded that women are more likely than men
to suffer from chest pain during psychological stress. The physical
effects of stress for women can include high blood pressure, susceptibility
to disease and infections, and depression.
I knowfrom firsthand experience.
A few years ago, I was a whirl of competence. I attended night school to
earn a degree in English, had a two-hour commute to my full-time job as a
marketing coordinator for an engineering firm, and was a Sunday school teacher.
I cooked, prayed, exercised, cleaned, and ran kids to soccer practice and
games. At night I studied, both for my Sunday school class and college courses.
My twin daughter and son were 13, and my oldest daughter, 14. Once they'd
entered kindergarten, I'd entered the workforceand had been juggling
the responsibilities of motherhood and career ever since. As time went on,
my life became even more complex. I moved up the ladder at work. My husband
and I started a ministry to college-age singles. As I advanced in my job,
I felt the pull to finish my education. Because my children were so close
in age, their activities often overlapped. I'd run one child to soccer practice
on the east side of town, then speed to the west side to watch another play
Even after a brush with a serious illness, I didn't slow down. While I knew
stress could affect my health, I simply didn't have enough hours in the day
to complete the tasks before me. This is just my life, I told myself.
Fatigue was so familiar, I thought it was normal. If I sat down, I succumbed
to my weariness, so I learned not to stop. I'd drop my shoes at the door and
keep going. Important matters, such as a phone call from a college student
asking for advice or a shoulder to cry on, became bothersome. I wanted to
care, but I simply didn't have the time.
Then one day, as I rushed through the mall, I caught a glimpse of myself
in a mirror. It literally stopped me in my tracks. Who is that woman with
those dark shadows under her eyes? I wondered. Suddenly, I was hit full-force
by the fatigue that had seeped into my very bones. As I stared into the eyes
of this weary stranger, I knew my life had to change.
Today, the woman who greets me in the mirror each morning is free from shadows
and lines. Sure, I still have my same mussed-up brown hair and crooked smile,
but the fatigue I wore like a second skin is gone.
To get there, I had to make some hard choices. We had a major family powwow
to talk about what could be changed, discarded, or postponed in our lives.
Together, we listed our priorities: God, family, health, ministry, work. We
then measured the true level of priority by taking an honest look at each
category. It was a painful time of realization. I'd sandwiched God into my
commute, praying as I traveled the busy highway. And while I studied the Bible
every day, it was to teach it, not to spend time with God. Family was second,
and health, dead last.
After much prayer and planning, I gave up my job and commute. It wasn't an
easy decision, and it was a six-month process. Most families simply don't
have the resources to kiss a job good-byeand we were no exception. We
trimmed our finances to the lowest dollar, sold our car, and bought an older
model. We aggressively paid off a credit card. I scouted our city for leads
on work I could do from home, made contacts with the school system, and contracted
to create a monthly newsletter for an elementary school. I still wanted to
use the skills I'd developed in my career, but in a different context.
My first month home, I didn't know how to relax. I was a drill sergeant who
almost drove my family crazy. My poor kids were used to snacking and watching
cartoons after school; I was used to deadlines and commutes. They became
my new deadlines as I ushered them through chores, making them clean their
rooms, feed the dog and cat, and help me with dinner preparation the minute
they walked through the door. It wasn't that they didn't want to helpthey
simply wanted a break.
I hadn't realized how difficult it would be for me to walk away from so much
of what I used to do. I worried about the promotions I'd never get. I wondered
about fulfillment. I missed my paycheck.
I'm glad to say I eventually chilled out. I had toor my family was
going to send me back. I realized I not only needed to pace myself, but to
find an outlet for the energy I once poured into my work. So I began an early-morning
exercise program, and soon discovered there's nothing like running five miles
to sap the drill sergeant right out of you!
I also readjusted my definition of success. I hadn't realized how much I'd
defined myself by the words and rewards that came with a career. Now I asked
myself, What is lasting? Where does God want me? Where will I make the
most significant impact?
After a few months, I willingly absconded more duties, such as my Sunday
school class. I prayed the new teacher would love my class the way I had for
15 years, and soon realized the class would go on and even prosper without
me. For the first time I was a student in a Sunday school classand
I loved it!
It got easier as I learned to weigh every decision. Because I was home, I
received many offers. Did I want to be in the upcoming drama at our church?
Did I want to lead a Bible study? What about serving on a local committee
for community projects? I prayed over them all, but narrowed my involvements
only to those areas with which God impressed me, understanding that family
time and time with Him were priority. I now was able to pour myself into the
teens and college students who crossed my path.
I also postponed college, letting my shiny new library card become my gateway
It didn't take long for wonderful things to start happening. I found out
I could grow cucumbers. I gave myself permission to nap. And I began to laugh.
One night our family was in the living room, and my son cracked a corny joke.
I got so tickled, I laughed till I cried. My children, who thought the joke
was so bad it couldn't possibly be funny, laughed as they watched their mom
hold her sides and wipe away her tears. They soon began to share funny tidbits
and jokes with me regularly, waiting for that joke that would cause me to
erupt in laughter. Even at 17 and 18 years old, they still do it today.
When my children were young, we used to take long walks along the creek by
our house, or lie on the floor and wrestle and play. Somehow I'd lost much
of that intimacy. One day I reached over to stroke my son's head and realized
it felt unfamiliarto both of us. That night, my oldest daughter sat
on the couch beside me, complaining that her feet hurt from standing at her
job. I took her foot and began to massage it. As I kneaded her foot, she told
me about her day and we laughed about things that had happened to her. Suddenly
a heavy object plopped in my lap. As I looked at the size-10 foot resting
there, my son said, "I'm next."
I began to wrap my arms around my husband and keep them there, leaving behind
the quick courtesy hugs I once gave at the door. We walked in the evenings
together and talked about our children, our hopes and dreams, and the events
of our day. The intimacy that only comes with spending time together began
I'll never forget the day I realized I was rested. It was the first
morning I woke up without a to-do list going through my mind. My heart was
calm, I didn't feel fatigued, and I could enjoy the little things that were
only background noise before.
Recently I walked to the mailbox and, on impulse, sat by the pond near our
home. That innate tug immediately began as I thought of the dirty dishes sitting
in the sink, a pile of bills on the counter, and a manuscript that needed
I consciously ignored it. Soon the birds accepted my presence. One began
to sing and another answered. I heard the most intriguing call and strained
to see the bird that could produce such a sound. A light breeze swept across
my skin and the sun tingled on my flesh. I closed my eyes and listened to
the light rhythm of the water as it lapped against my feet. I breathed a prayer.
Some would say I was killing time. I prefer to believe I was fulfilling
time, experiencing the beauties of God's creation, sensing the peace of solitude,
finding a rest that has nothing to do with sleep.
When I was through, I walked back to my responsibilities. They hadn't leftbut
my 20 minutes of peace gave me the energy to tackle them with a song in my
I still fight my tendency to do it all. The temptation doesn't happen as
often as it once did, but occasionally I find myself walking back into the
busy trap. Recently I was invited to attend a ministry service. I went for
an afternoon, and my heart immediately went out to the women involved. I was
asked to go again. I instinctively started to say yes when I felt a small
check inside me. I had to stop and think of the places God led me these past
few years, allowing me the opportunity to help others through my writing and
work with teens. Though this was a good cause, I was already where God wanted
My house still isn't perfect. I still struggle with time issues. I have to
manage my writing, cleaning, cooking, speaking, and family, but now I'm juggling
only 5 or 6 balls instead of 20.
Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. If I keep saying it to myself, then
one day it just might be second nature. Until then, I'll consciously decide
that I'm going to get out of the fast lane and enjoy my life.
Published in Today's Christian Woman, July/August 2000. Reprinted
T. SUZANNE ELLER is a freelance writer and speaker who lives in Oklahoma. Check out her Web site: daretobelieve.org.
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