Marge Steinhage Fenelon cautions against a system of priorities in which everything seems equally important.
We moms tend to think that everything is important. Between kids (including spiritual children), chores, work, church, social, and family obligations, and relationships, we often tell ourselves that we must do it all and do it well. Add to that the difficulty most women have saying no to the requests of others and you have the recipe for alarming overwhelm.
Why do we let this happen?
Women instinctively are nurturers. We were born to be life bearers, life bringers, and life givers. Although men can be nurturing, women are nurturing and all that we do falls into some facet of that nurturing instinct. That is the way God made us, and it is both beautiful and important.
Sadly, however, we can spend all our time and energy nurturing others and neglecting to nurture ourselves. That can lead to mental, physical, and even spiritual burnout. Depending on your temperament, overwhelm can either put you on fast forward and make you a nervous wreck or stop you in your tracks and leave you inert and discouraged. Either way, it’s not good for us or for the people around us.
Usually when coaching clients come to me in a state of overwhelm, it’s because they have let their priorities get out of whack. When that happens, we lose sight of what is truly important and appreciate our own strengths and weaknesses and the specific purpose God has in mind for us. It’s a bit like the character Dash in The Incredibles animated classic. When his mother assured him that everyone is special, he countered, “If everyone is special, then no one is special.” When you really think about it, when everything is important, then nothing is important. Holding everything as a priority simply turns us into “doing machines,” bereft of spirit and intentionality. Having clarity on our priorities prevents that.
Let me give you a small example from my own life. As a young mom, I tried to juggle a growing family, my marriage, homeschooling, responsibilities in an active apostolate, and a public relations consulting business. I also was a clean freak. There had to be a perfect spot for everything, everything perfectly in place, and the house perfectly clean. As you may have guessed, I drove my family and myself crazy and fast-tracked to an emotional breakdown. Then one day—certainly at the nudging of the Blessed Mother—a brilliant idea came to me.
One of the things that most got me down was the persistent mountain of laundry (sound familiar?). It seems the more I did, the more there was. I realized that there were some types of laundry that did not need to be folded! Seriously, who cares if kitchen rags and dish towels are wrinkled? Or cleaning rags? Or … yes, underwear? From then on, all those items went directly from drying to bins, drawers, or cabinet cubbies. This small step was the impetus for other steps and eventually an entirely revamped priority list.
Instead of focusing on what had to be done, I focused on what did not have to be done. I had discovered a valuable tool in eliminating overwhelm!
Admittedly, I still grapple with overwhelm because of my nurturing instincts, but looking at my priorities in a new light has been a tremendous help. Now when I find myself at that crazed fast-forward stage, I get out my notebook, invoke the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and have a long talk with our Mother Mary about what realistically is important and what is not. That becomes my revised list of priorities.
Copyright 2023 Marge Steinhage Fenelon
About the Author
Marge Steinhage Fenelon is an award-winning author, international speaker, life coach, and retreat leader. She has written several books on Marian devotion and Catholic spirituality. As a life coach, she is passionate about helping others grow personally and spiritually. Her podcast, Simply Holy, airs on many popular podcast platforms. Learn more about Marge at at MargeFenelon.com.