Pitfalls of the overextended

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Hyperextension [hahy-per-ik-sten-shuh n]:  the extension of a part of the body beyond normal limits.

Does this apply to the brain? to the soul?  Most of us have been hyperextended/overextended at some point in our lives.  Whether it is work, church, family or just plain life-in-general.  There are countless articles about avoiding “burn out” and how to “simplify your life”.  These are all great, and of course, are good advice.  But it’s a little like telling someone they should have stopped at the last gas station after they have already run out of gas and are stranded on the side of the road.  What do you do if you are overextended, and can’t turn back time to avoid it in the first place?

Okay, I’ll admit this one is a bit selfish on my part.  I am overextended right now.  I didn’t choose to be necessarily, it just worked out that way.  “Work life balance” can at times become a luxury not afforded to all.  Being indispensable can switch job security to burnout in the blink of an eye.  But this post is not about avoiding burnout, or about garnering sympathy.  It’s about how to remain Christ centered . . . and, about some accountability for me.

So, what can we do when overextended?  Step one . . . admit it.  I’d like to say I’m superman, and that working 6-7 days per week doesn’t affect me; but denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.  What next?  Simple, aim your heart towards Jesus and the rest will follow.  That being said . . . here are some pitfalls I’m learning to avoid (between cups of coffee).

When you are overextended you tend to . . . 

  1. Think you’re more important than everyone else.

When everything you do walks the tightrope of success and failure, the rest of life can seem so trivial.  I remember, once in residency, I was very stressed about some administrative issues.  I was in charge of the on call schedule, which pretty much meant everyone hated me.  I was trying to balance everyone’s schedule and requests, while at the same time, trying to make sure I didn’t disrupt how the entire department delivered care to three different medical centers.  It was in the midst of this that I made a trip to the hospital coffee cart.  One of my few pleasantries in the day at the time, was freshly brewed latte.  As I waited in line for my coffee, I observed how the two women working at the cart were embroiled in a workplace dispute.  It was apparently over the schedule.  I remember thinking how ironic it was that we were both struggling with similar problems.  They could not balance the schedule of who was going to be making mochas next week, and I was struggling with who was going to cover the third weekend for the VA.  We were all stressed out, but I didn’t value their stress the same way I valued mine.  I’m pretty sure they didn’t care why I was grumpy.  When you are overextended, you lose perspective . . . try to hold on to it.

2. Feel entitled to a bad attitude.

Have you ever come home from a hard day at work and your spouse or loved one asked, “what’s wrong?”  Is your answer, “I had a hard day!”  I’m guessing this has hit roughly 100% of us.  In my field, we call this displacement.  When you are upset at something or someone else, so you vent your frustration at a more convenient person.  It’s a defense mechanism, but not a very helpful one.  Being mad at your spouse, kids, coworkers, or anyone else for that matter, doesn’t help you feel better; it just makes them feel worse.  Misery may love company, but it doesn’t cater to that company very well.  When over extended, speak to yourself.  Strengthen yourself in the Lord.  Remember His benefits and encourage your soul rather than discourage the souls of those you love.

3. Excuse your bad behavior.

So, this one is hard for me.  I have a firmly entrenched belief, that when one is under duress, all manor of food is acceptable.  In an exceptionally hard circumstance, even the blatantly sinful indulgence of fast food can be excused by my strained ego and overpowering id.  In lay people talk, I eat my feelings.  I know, I know; I am a walking contradiction.  But this is one of those pitfalls that so easily ensnares us.  There is a tendency to use exceptionally difficult circumstances as a justification for exceptionally bad choices.  It isn’t just relegated to McDonalds and Taco Bell either.  I can’t tell you how many people who have relapsed with drugs, alcohol or sexual addiction, cite stress as the main reason for their slip up.  The sooner we stop seeing stress as an excuse for sin, the sooner we can see God’s provision for our weakness.

4. Feel you deserve to neglect your other responsibilities.

Hypocrisy alert: as I write this, I have just neglected putting my dishes in the sink.  All too often when we are overextended, the normal day to day responsibilities of life.  While there are some circumstances in these times that make normal life not possible, it shouldn’t be an excuse to avoid things you’d rather not do.  Do you hate doing laundry?  Are you using work as an excuse to push it off on your spouse?  Would you rather not read this paragraph because it hits home?  Consider dying to self a bit, and choosing service over being served.  Say no to work when you can, when it means saying yes to people who you are charged to care for with eternal reward.

5. Resent people who aren’t overextended.

“Dr. Medaris, I need a signature from you.”  I hear this about twenty times a day.  For some reason, it triggers instant irritability in me at times.  I’ve noticed it’s worse when I’m tired and stressed.  The request hasn’t changed, I have.  I feel entitled to resenting their simple request because I’m too busy to address it.  They are doing their job, and have done nothing wrong.  My temptation to dismiss them, answer curtly, or worse, snap at them and refuse to help is completely inappropriate.  The only thing I am really responding to here is my jealousy that they are not as stressed as I am.  I’m not aware of Jesus ever yelling at the disciples because they didn’t have to save the world.  He loved them and had compassion on them.  Treat others around you kindly, regardless of your dilemma.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  If you can guard against overextension, please do so.  The romantic notion of “being integral” is less enjoyable in practice.  I’ve heard the saying that states: no one will ever say on their death bed that they wish thy would have spent more time at work; there’s a lot of wisdom packed in that cliche.  Perhaps the best thing to bear in mind while overextended is to take precautions to avoid future overextension.  But in all things, Christ is central.  The worst shame of “workaholism” is becoming so mission focused that we forget the one who commissions the worker.  When overwhelmed, look to Jesus, and seek counsel.  Blessings to you, and prayers welcomed for my current overextension.

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