Overwhelmed? Do It Like the Looney Tunes Do

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I’ve been traveling quite a bit recently, mainly leading retreats on the Sabbath book. Last weekend was the end of a two-week stretch in which either Robert was traveling, or I was, or for a brief 45 minutes when our planes crossed in the air, both of us. It’s ironic that I’m talking to groups about Sabbath, given how hectic my schedule has been! I’m careful to take Sabbath time even when I travel–a quiet afternoon at the hotel between sessions, a trip to the movies on the Monday after my return. What suffers is the home stuff. The entropy is wild around here at Casa Dana, and that impacts my mental health.

I was reminded by someone at this weekend’s retreat of a practice I wrote about in the book but hadn’t thought about in a long time. Time to revisit it again.

Are you, too, feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff involved in adulting? Read on for a technique that’s worked for me. This is an excerpt from Sabbath in the Suburbs:

Remember those old Looney Tunes cartoons in which a hungry character looks at its prey and sees a juicy steak where the head is supposed to be? Or when the guy who’s down on his luck finds a singing frog and begins to see dollar signs?

I try to do the same thing with the clutter and piled-up projects in our house. Rather than looking at an unfinished task and seeing what we’ve failed to do, I picture what that unfinished task represents: namely, something important that we have done.

So when I look at our cluttered garage full of broken rakes and household items we’ve discarded but haven’t yet gotten rid of—some of which have been with us for years—I try not to see our failure in getting the garage cleaned out. Instead I see all those times we pedaled bikes up and down our street with our kids, gasping to reach the top of the steep hill, then soaring down to the bottom again.

Every time I open the cabinet under the sink, I see a mess of bottles, desiccated sponges, and aluminum foil. For nine years they have begged for an intervention from the Container Store. I try to see something else instead: I see Caroline hunched over a ball of yarn and a chaos of stitches as I teach her, slowly, to knit. With this new vision, the undone thing isn’t a sign of neglect or failure. It’s a testimony that something else is more important at this moment of our lives.

Even if you don’t observe Sabbath, a shift in perception is helpful. It doesn’t ever all get done. We need to train our vision. We see failure when we should see alternatives. Better to focus on the good and important things we did do instead of berating ourselves for falling short of an ideal.

Robert’s grandmother remembers a time when her children were young and a fussy neighbor wrinkled his nose at the bare patches of grass in her yard. “You really ought to do something about that,” he said with disdain. She responded, “I’ll grow grass when I stop growing children.”

~

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Image is from Humans of New York on Facebook–a friend sent it to me this week, and it felt very Sabbath-y.

7 thoughts on “Overwhelmed? Do It Like the Looney Tunes Do

  1. Eunice Fernandez

    You reminded me of the story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42). We have to look for balance in life and have to give priority to the “good portions” in life.

    Reply
  2. Ted Chadeayne

    Oddly, this has a similar theme as your lectionary column just published in The Christian Century. (The March 2 issue, people! Buy it in print!) When Mary anointed Jesus with oil at Bethany, Judas objected to “wasting” what could have been given to the poor. Jesus’ response that the poor will always be with us was not resignation. It was a recognition that the work of the kingdom will always be needed, which is a joy! But this work should not consume us. The anointing (not coincidently, on the Sabbath) was a more important task than work. It was an honoring of a fleeting, sacred moment, a time of rest to be preserved, to strengthen us when the unfinished work begins again. When I go home tonight, I will try to honor the sacred, everyday moments I often let slip by – maybe with a family bike ride down a hill!

    Reply
  3. virginia Hollis

    excellent suggestions. I need them now. My life seems out of control too. need a new perspective.

    Reply

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