If we always merely survive life–are always just getting through– life would be a tragedy. Still, the reality is there are extremely stressful and deeply emotional times when all you can do is just do what you have to in order to get by. There’s a moment that exemplifies for me this kind of time when I have to focus on what’s in front of me. I was standing in my parents’ kitchen when, as was often the case during that season of my life, I could feel my own emotions and anxieties start to well up and threaten to overwhelm me. I was holding a potato peeler in my hand, looking at the potatoes sitting on the counter that my mom had asked me to get ready for dinner. I steeled myself and mentally said, “Just peel the potatoes.” Sometimes, all you can do is simply the next thing you need to do. In this post, I share a few reflections I have found helpful in “potato-peeling” times.
Some questions to ask yourself…
How do you recognize a time when you need to “just peel the potatoes?” This can be tricky. We’re born with a flair for the dramatic. There are times when we just need to get over ourselves and our imagined hardships… but equally real are the times when we need to give ourselves grace and be ok with mere survival. Some of these times are obvious, such as times of great loss (a death of someone close to you, ending a serious relationship, the crushing of a lifelong dream). Some situations may not be obvious to us or to anyone else. It’s helpful to have someone who know you really well to give you their perspective–someone you know you can be open with and will be honest with you. I’m really grateful to have my counselor for this, since he’s usually the one encouraging me to be proactive and to fully embrace life. When he tells me that I just need to get a through a time, I can believe him.
What are your potatoes? In other words, what tasks are immediate and necessary? What do you need to do in order to get through to the next day? Or just the next hour? If it’s not necessary, take it off your list.
Are people your potatoes? When we’re overwhelmed, it’s easy to focus on ourselves. But sometimes, what’s right in front of us are people… people that we may not get to spend much time with, or even if they’re around all the time, people with whom we will never get another chance to share that specific moment of their lives (and our lives).
(Ok, admit it, you thought of Mr. Potato Head when you read the previous question. And yes, I need to get off the potato theme… but I’m kind of having fun).
Do you have too many potatoes to peel? Is there just more to your life right now that you can handle? Is there anything you can let go? It can be really hard to back out of something that you’ve agreed to do. For one, you might feel badly or guilty. Further, sometimes the person you’re letting down is understanding… and sometimes they’re not. Recently, I committed to something, but realized soon after I was already pushing my own limits time-wise and emotionally and I needed to cut that commitment out. I’m not always able to get myself to that point–to realize that I need to quit something and then actually do it–but I did it. Thankfully, the other person’s reaction was more than understanding.
Some truths to remember…
Time is continuous and time is fluid. My sister Julie said this to me once, and I’ve often repeated it to myself. Her point was that 1) life continues to move–i.e. you won’t always feel the way that you are feeling now–and 2) life changes–things change, factors come and go, and your situation won’t always be the same as it is right now.
God is gracious and powerful. What disturbs me the most about the times that I feel like I’m stumbling through life is that I feel as though I’m not doing life well–my job, my relationships, even just daily tasks. It never ceases to amaze me how God continues to work around and through me despite that (maybe I’m a more conducive vessel when I’m most conscious of how weak I truly am!)… and also how me slipping up doesn’t mean the world stops turning (imagine that).
This past year, I’ve been frustrated at just how many times I’ve needed to just get through. Although grieving the loss of a parent much too soon is one of the “obvious” qualifiers, I don’t like living life that way. But God works in every situation, and I suspect I’m going to come out much humbler and more grateful on the other side.