Overwhelmed: Scared of the Future
Our day to day lives do not just overwhelm us, sometimes our fear of the future overwhelms us. My husband's day job is planning and maintaining 401ks for companies. What this means is that he gets paid to worry about the future for a lot of people. Often people’s worries about the future are tied to their money. Many people are worried about saving for the future. They ask: What retirement will look like? Have I saved enough? Did I start too late? How long will I have to work? But it is more than that; people talk about college plans and medical expenses, parents that need to be taken care of. We are stressed out, worried, and overwhelmed by all of this stuff.
There are a few common concerns that people are stressed about as they look to the future:
• working and being able to pay the bills
• changing demands for "successful" (more education, better technical skills, etc.)
• the unpredictability of today's world. (I work hard to plan well, to make right decisions, and so many times something unplanned will come and ruin my hard work.)
• paying for college, I am overwhelmed by the thought of paying for my kids to go to college.
• Saving for retirement
• Job stability
• Planning for old age and declining health.
• Taking care of aging parents, dependent children, disabled loved ones
I am sure you could add more to this list. There are a lot of things that we worry about as we look to the future. Often it makes our future seem bleak and overwhelming. In the Hebrew Bible, there is this great story about a woman named Naomi. Her life was laid out before her when everything went wrong. She is so shaken that she can't see a future at all. So she makes a plan for today. She deals with the future one day at a time. When the future overwhelms us, it helps to focus on the present. What we can do now. And for Naomi, even though she doesn't know what the future will bring, even though she has very little hope for her future. She puts one foot in front of the other and starts walking home. It is not a long-term plan. It is a here and now plan; it is a 'today' plan.
I am your type A, oldest child, long-range planner type of woman. I like having a 3-year, 5-year, and 10-year plan. Without a plan, I feel lost. However, sometimes, life happens, and my plans sink. To create a whole new plan, makes me feel like I am drowning, but focusing on the next step brings things back into focus. A while back, I took a parenting class taught by the guidance counselor at our local school. One of the takeaways was working to stay in the present. She said the brain functions in the present tense. Her point was that it is better to tell our kids you are a good friend, you are kind and caring and loving, instead of you will be a good friend, or you will be kind and caring and loving. She said that the future tense sets us up for failure because, in some way, we will fail those statements. The future tense allows us to put off for tomorrow what we should be doing today.
As a person of faith, I also deal with the overwhelm of the future by trusting in God's desire to create good in my life. Naomi's life fell apart, but her daughter-in-law, Ruth, stuck with her and eventually was instrumental in securing her future. In the story, Ruth acts as the lived-out version of God's love and care for Naomi. My husband's grandfather was a farmer in Indiana. Farming is perhaps one of the most uncertain jobs. Your entire livelihood is dependent on the environment, which is totally out of our control. A drought comes along, disease, and everything you worked for is gone. Like many small farmers, had a deep faith and trust in God. It is sort of surprising because, on the one hand, their future is always uncertain, but on the other hand, they witness God's work in the natural world every day. They see the sunrise, the new life that sprouts all around them. Trusting in God is hard, especially when you have other people depending on you. But I have found my trust in God offers me a life preserver when I am sinking under the unknown of the future.
Even when the future is overwhelming, we can focus on the present and look for signs of new life and future growth that are at work in our life.