How to Tell When You’re Taking on Too Much

Question: When it comes to self-care, how do you know when you’re taking on too much?

Answer: Unfortunately for many of us, we often don’t realize we’re becoming overwhelmed until it’s too late! When you start skipping meals because you don’t have time to eat, or skimp on sleep because you’re answering email late at night or your mind just can’t relax enough to fall asleep, when you have that sinking feeling that you should have said no when you said yes. . . . sometimes we might think all is well, then suddenly feel overwhelmed!

I’ve been there too, but I’ve also been learning some better ways of how to tell when I’m taking on too much before it happens.

This question came up yesterday at Wilmot Mennonite Church in New Hamburg, Ontario, where I spoke on Psalm 40 and then talked about self-care in the “adult formation” time that followed worship. So before I continue with this post, I’d like to say a big THANK YOU to everyone at Wilmot for your warm welcome, wonderful singing, good conversations, and your interest throughout our time together. May God continue to bless your life and ministry, and may you continue to increase in faith, hope, and love.

On my long flight home, I thought more about your question and three practices of discernment that have helped me.

1. Consider your core commitments

I completed my pastoral ministry in November, because I had felt a new wind of the Spirit blowing in my life for me to invest more deeply in my writing and speaking, while also remaining open to new ministry. While I loved the church and still love it today, while I loved pastoral ministry then and still love it now, I felt my core ministry commitments shifting from pastoring to writing.

So when I was asked whether I might consider another lead pastor position, I looked at the writing commitments I had made and what I hoped for, and realized that taking another full-time church position at this time would be too much. When other intriguing ministry opportunities appeared, I considered them also in light of what I had begun to see as my core commitment to a writing ministry. My roles as Resident Author at Valley CrossWay and as editor of Purpose align with that core commitment more closely than other pastoral and church admin roles at least for now. That may well change as the Spirit continues to blow in my life, but considering my core commitments will continue to help me navigate what I believe is God’s path for me.

2. Enlist the help of others

One popular speaker who receives invitations from all over the world shared with me that he has now formed an “advisory committee” consisting of his wife; their son, who is now middle-aged with a grown family of his own; and a friend with overseas experience. Together they vet each invitation for its ministry potential and how it fits in the big picture of other commitments, including their relationship as a couple, their family life, and his own level of energy.

I do this more informally in conversation with my husband and others, but the idea is the same to enlist the help of others. Sometimes those who are close to us may sense that we’re becoming overwhelmed before we notice it ourselves. We may simply be too close to a situation and need the perspective that others bring.

3. Learn from experience

In Four GiftsI share an experience from early in my pastoral ministry about learning to pace myself, and I’m needing to learn that lesson again and in a new way. As part of my writing, I’m also wanting to speak regularly, and at this point the plan is to speak once a month at Valley CrossWay as part of my Resident Author involvement. On top of that, I’ve been speaking once a month at other churches within driving distance (Vancouver last month, Surrey this month, Port Coquitlam next month), plus speaking at a weekend event once a month (Ontario this month, Alberta next month, B.C. the month after that).

I’m loving all of these different ministry opportunities and feel energized for them and by them. But does this pace  leave enough room to get any other writing done? Especially once I start a new book project which takes sustained attention? And is this pace sustainable year round? In my full-time pastoral ministry, I spoke regularly twice a month with only one or two weekend speaking commitments in a whole year. So I’m needing to think about all of this, to pray it through, to journal it out, to consider my core commitments, to enlist the help of others, to seek God’s guidance and where the Spirit is blowing.


Writing/Reflection Prompt: Where is the Spirit blowing in your life? Consider your core commitments, who might help you discern, and what you are learning.


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2 thoughts on “How to Tell When You’re Taking on Too Much

  1. I appreciate your insights very much — the vehicle loaded with trash speaks volumes especially seeing that it is no longer moving! May I add that the article, “A Daily Dose of Awe” is also “fitting” with today’s observation!

    1. What a great observation, Sue – sometimes we need to stop at the side of the road to unload! May God grant us wisdom as we continue to discern what to take on, what we need to set aside, and place our trust in God who carries us always.

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