After 19 years of business ownership, homeschooling two kids, and completely rewriting my life over the past year, I am intimately familiar with being overwhelmed. I know what it’s like to see a full slate of work ahead of me, and realize the only way to get it done, is for me to physically do it. Since I find myself in this situation frequently, I have a great question to pose for my next blog post…and that is:
How do you eat an elephant?
An elephant is an overwhelming circumstance or situation. It’s a series of fires that have begun in your life and orchestrated themselves to simultaneously scorch multiples aspects, often at the same time. It’s when you find yourself completely overwhelmed at your life situation, and at the realization that there is no easy way out…and no matter what path you find to walk along, it’s going to be a long haul.
It’s when my husband was diagnosed with cancer at age 37, when we thought he just had a hernia.
It’s when my son was unexpectedly born with cleft lip and palate…a birth defect that is very fixable, but requires a childhood of surgeries and interventions.
It’s when I found myself driving down our mountain road, knowing that the end of our business was near, with no clear path how to sell it.
It’s when I realized that the only things standing between our life in California and the new life God was calling us to in Tennessee was selling two houses, closing down a business, packing up the contents of the houses, finding a new house in Tennessee, loading our moving trailer, and then actually physically moving our family across the nation…Any one of those things should take several months to accomplish, and they all had to happened at the exact same time.
In the last year or two of our business, I had the same disturbing dream, over and over again. Initially, it caused me great anxiety each time it emerged in my sleep…but by the tenth or eleventh time I had the dream, I had grown so used to it, I’d think, “Oh it’s my stupid anxiety dream again,” even while I slept. The dream had lost its power.
I think there is something similar to navigating the elephants in life. At a certain point, you stop thinking “OH NO! AN ELEPHANT!!!” and instead think, “Ok…there’s the next elephant…here we go, God…”
I’m several elephants into my adult life, and have come up with this step-by-step elephant-eating plan for anyone who finds themselves in similar overwhelming circumstances:
Step One: Size up the elephant. Take a good look at the circumstances and the complete and utter chaos you have found yourself in. It’s nuts, isn’t it? I mean really…who could do well navigating a challenge like THIS one? Allow yourself the freak out moments, because it will lead you to the next step:
Step Two: Acknowledge you can’t eat the elephant alone. It’s going to take other people to help you…and most importantly, it’s going to take God’s help and direction. Other people may tell you to eat the tail first; or the ears…but then you will find God putting your heart into conquering another aspect. Listen to God’s leading. When we moved to Tennessee, I had competing voices in my head (and in my life) telling me to prepare our house to move; do the final paperwork for our business; make sure our children were faring as well as possible, given the chaos; look for a house in Tennessee…the only way I was able to successfully move from point A (California) to point B (Tennessee) was to follow God’s steady voice, one step at a time. This leads me to the next concept:
Step Three: Take one step at a time, and one day at a time. Most of my days are written for me before I even wake up. I know when my kids need to go to school, when I need to go to work; what waits for me at work, and I also know the overwhelming number of things that must fit in alongside these daily realities. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I ask myself, “What is the very next step I need to take?” And then I do that step. It’s amazing how doing this one thing, over and over again each day, truly does move life’s mountains.
Step Four: Don’t look too far ahead. When you are in an overwhelming circumstance, what you MOST want to know is when it will be over…when you will have some semblance of control over your life again, and can go back to worrying about what you’ll make for dinner, instead of how to pay for the food. When I find myself worrying about the future, or wanting the five or ten-year plan, I take stock of my life at that exact moment: If I am fed, in a warm house, and have clothing on…and so do my children…honestly, everything else is a bonus. The Lord’s prayer doesn’t say, “Give us this day our next ten years’ worth of bread,” but simply “daily bread.” And sometimes remembering His faithfulness with daily bread makes it easier to trust He will continue to provide it as we live out the years ahead.
Step Five: Don’t be afraid of hard work. There was a point in time when I would shy away from a project because it seemed too overwhelming. After years of business ownership, and especially after navigating my past year, I know the power of diligently accomplishing one thing at a time, one day at a time…you can do impossible things by simply rolling up your sleeves, and actually doing the work. Stop thinking about how overwhelming it is…and just DO THE WORK.
Step Six: Don’t fear exhaustion. Exhaustion comes from hard work and intense living. At some point, you will have time to sleep again. If you become too focused on how tired you are, it robs the energy you need to actually navigate through your situation. Accept that exhaustion is a part of life sometimes…and you will survive it.
Still, even with all of this advice, sometimes you just get sick of the elephant. You want it to go away, or disappear, or be replaced by something delicious and decadent and not have to eat more of the STUPID STINKY ELEPHANT…MAKE THE ELEPHANT GO AWAY!!!
That’s when you do the most important thing:
Take a bit of time to take care of yourself. Sleep in. Do something fun, just for the sake of having fun. Go for a walk. Look at the stars. Eat a Blizzard from Dairy Queen. Allow yourself time to dream…sometimes the best way to eat an elephant is to allow yourself time to stop looking at it for awhile, and focus on things that give you joy. It reminds you that eventually the elephant will go away…this too shall pass..and all of that elephant wrestling will leave you stronger, wiser and able to enjoy the sweet things of life even more.