I’m Hurried and Overwhelmed. Help!

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I often feel hurried and overwhelmed by day-to-day life. What should I do?


                   Chicago IL


Me, too.


We can feel hurried for many different reasons. Life, work, relationships, responsibilities. There’s a standard iPhone ringtone that still makes my skin crawl whenever I hear it. It was my morning alarm during a few months of intense stress when chimes signaled the start of. a cortisol-packed morning routine. Turns out, I’m not the only one familiar with that minor trauma. The hurry from that season is still with me in the feelings that ringtone invokes.


While the circumstances that foster feelings of hurry may be beyond our control. those circumstances don’t actually produce hurry all by themselves. Being in a constant rush is a condition of life that results from a combination of external and internal factors.


One of the best explanations of hurry that I know comes from John Ortberg: “There’s a difference between being busy and being hurried. Busy is a condition of the body having many things to do. Hurry is a condition of the soul in which I am so preoccupied that I cannot be fully present to God or a person. Jesus was often busy, but he was never hurried” (p. 144).


That means that hurry is a habit of the heart and mind. We can develop detrimental internal habits by letting circumstances “carry us along” instead of intentionally responding to them. Those habits become deep-seated patterns that produces and reinforce hurry in our souls.


So, to address hurry, we have to do internal work. We can allow God to minister to the places in our souls where these habits have run amok. When we do, we can experience something better in place of hurry: the peace that comes from confidence in God’s love.


Three internal patterns that I’ve seen reinforce hurry in my own soul are:

  • A lack of limits
  • Burdensome expectations
  • Prayerlessness

On more than one occasion, those habits have formed a trifecta of distracted, hurried overwhelm for me. They touch the places in my soul that need God’s healing. Maybe they do for you, too. Let’s take a look at each in turn.



Am I hurried because I have said “yes” to too much?


Part of the gift of being human is our capacity to choose, to say “yes” or “no” to other people, to opportunities, to temptations, and even to God. We are not automata, helpless to serve our programming.


On the other hand, we are not entirely free to do as we choose. Because of the power of sin, we often “do what [we] do not want to do” (Romans 7:20 NIV). Growing in holiness involves the restoration of our will over and against the oppression of sin. When we are liberated from sin, we are free to say “yes” without constraint to all the good things we really do deeply desire.


But, as we work our way toward that freedom in fits and starts, we may find ourselves giving more constrained “yeses.” Sometimes we say “yes” to something because we feel like we have to, because we are afraid of missing out, or because we are afraid of disappointing others. And when one “yes” piles upon another, we don’t have enough to give. We have overspent our account.


Recognizing that your account is not infinite is part of Christian maturity. You are a creature, not the infinite Creator. Your day had twenty-four hours, no more and no less. Your mind and body have a finite capacity for attention and energy.


These limits are a feature of human life, not a bug. As theologian Kelly M. Kapic explains: “[T]he good part about being a creature is that we were made to be dependent upon God and, by our very design, also dependent on other people and the earth.” Our limits better dispose us toward humility and faithtwo virtues we could always afford to say “yes” to more often.


If you are simply overcommitted, the way to overcome hurry is to make a ruthless assessment of your “yeses.” Where can you say “no” to free up the margin?



Am I hurried because of the weight of others’ (and my own) expectations?


Just as we can say “yes” to something because we don’t want to let someone down, we can hurry at something because of the pressure of others’ expectations. If your boss feels like you’re not getting enough done at work, working faster can look like your only option. If your relatives don’t like to be kept waiting at family gatherings, you find yourself rushing out the door to make it to the party on time.


The tricky thing about expectations is that we don’t choose them. But we do choose whether or not to accept them. Maybe you have an insecure friend who gets distressed if you don’t return their texts quickly. You can’t control their insecurity or distress, or how they respond if you disappoint their expectation. But it’s still your call whether you’re glued to your phone.


Being willing to disappoint other people is a prerequisite to emotional maturity and freedom. The New Testament metaphor for sin as a “trespass” is instructive on this point. That we forgive others for trespassing against us implies that we have a domain that should not be trespassed, a sanctum of sorts. It’s the domain of our free “yes”, which cannot be coerced. When people attempt to coerce it, even with good intentions. it hurts us.


What is the healthy response to that hurt? Not to accept it, but to see it for what it is, and to forgive it. Without being insensitive to others’ real needs, we can separate ourselves from their impositions on us.


What may be more difficult is separating ourselves from our own expectations. I recall in college feeling backed into a corner with the amount of homework I had to do. I was tempted to resent certain professors, whose expectations fel unreasonable. But the deeper issue was that I could not countenance achieving less than what felt “good enough” for me. So, I kept hurrying from one assignment to the next. Ironically, that hurried approach to learning left me little time for the kind of reflection that may have formed me more deeply during those years.


The antidote to burdensome expectation, whether others’ or our own, is to set out heart and mind clearly on the expectations to which we are truly and finally accountable: God’s. The good news is that God’s expectations are both more severe and more gracious than ours.


God’s expectations are more severe than ours because they don’t allow is to dodge the problems of our soul. God doesn’t “let us off the hook” for character issues as long as we’re adequately performing in some other domain.


God’s expectations are more gracious than ours because he doesn’t expect us to perform our way into holiness. Instead, he ministers his forgiveness and his power, making it possible for us to become different over time.


The other thing about God is that he knows exactly what we are made of: “he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14 NIV). That means that, unlike us, he does not impose expectations that contradict our creaturely limits. There is always enough time to do everything that God expects you to do.



Am I hurried because there’s no room in my life for prayer to stabilize my soul?


The monastic phrase “ora et labora” captures essential wisdom for Christian life. It translates to “pray and work,” and the Latin rhyme conveys how the two are interconnected; in a whole and undivided life, they are woven together.


There are many kinds of work that do not feel conducive to prayerful peace. These past couple of weeks right after the holidays, I feel like I (and all my co-workers) have been playing catch-up. When you face eight hours of back-to-back meetings, where’s the breathing room to remember the presence of God? I can only imagine how much more difficult it is for stay-at-home moms, healthcare workers, classroom teachers, and others whose work comes at an unrelenting pace.


But prayer, properly understood, is fuel for the work we are doing. It is not an unrelated religious duty that we need to “cram in” alongside the demands of work. It is a way to tap into resources for the work itself. When we hurry through our work without attempting to welcome God’s presence into it, we’re putting a kink in the fuel line.


Consider the words of the Apostle Paul: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6 NIV). That “in every situation” is a pretty comprehensive turn of phrase! It includes the stressful situations we are facing at work, at school, and at home. It includes every situation that catalyzes our habits of hurry. What are we to do in every situation? Present our requests to God. We connect our needs of the moment, whatever they are, to his infinite resources. Prayer is how we make that connection.


I have struggled with this, to be sure. Mental distraction nips at me constantly when I work. But I can also testify that when I have made the effort to “pray the work,” God has met me there. Creative opportunities to engage in prayer during the day abound. Take a first step, and God will honor it. Let him unhurry your soul through prayer.



As followers of Jesus, we are not immune to the circumstances that can give rise to emotional distress. Feeling overwhelmed sometimes is part of life—even Jesus experienced that. At the same time, we have access to the resources of God’s grace as we seek to respond to those circumstances. When we are hurried, we forget how much of his love and life is available to us right now, if we are willing to receive it.


That is what God desires for each one of us. Even if we are busy, we can be unhurried, saying “yes” to God and to all that he gives us, no more and no less.


Image by Kat Smith from Pexels


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