Under Pressure

I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.—Ecclesiastes 1:14

Like most overachievers, I’m driven. But sometimes my drive goes into overdrive, and often it’s of my own doing.

Recently I had several self-imposed deadlines for a number of projects, none related to my actual job. I asked friends to pray I would finish everything on time. I selectively budgeted my time for other activities in fierce protectiveness over my deadlines. I began to wonder how it all would come together.

Until I decided it didn’t have to.

Each project began as a way of showing my love to special people in my life. Somehow, in my mind, these people wouldn’t know how special they were to me if I didn’t complete my projects on time. But then I stepped back.

My deadlines weren’t important, I realized. The people still were. I could show them my love for them in another way. I could finish the projects on my own time. I could breathe. I could get back to enjoying life.

A weight fell off me. I was free.

My loved ones didn’t question my affections. I wasn’t a failure. The world didn’t stop.

Sometimes even our attempts to do good things become vanity and a striving after wind. We sometimes imagine our every effort has to be our crowning achievement, and any less than that proves we don’t measure up to the mark.

Well, news flash: We don’t. We won’t. And it’s okay.

I’ve finally learned, after more decades behind me on this earth than I have ahead of me, that I don’t need to live under pressure. This may mean saying no – sometimes to others, more often to myself. This may mean—gasp!—planning farther out. It may mean not planning at all, because every single moment of our lives doesn’t need to be planned.

Step back from your life, and ask yourself what will matter most in hindsight. Set your priorities accordingly. Then step back again and evaluate those priorities. If God and people are at their core, you’re probably on the right track.

Life is already hard. We don’t need to make it harder. And we kid ourselves if we believe our self-imposed stress remains within our own personal bubbles. It doesn’t. Like steam from a pressure cooker, stress must find its release. That release, unfortunately for those around us, has an intense yet small epicenter.

What pressures have you imposed upon yourself—perhaps career goals, financial goals, educational goals or fitness goals? Which among them is necessary, reasonable or achievable? And what pressures do you impose on those around you? Which among those is necessary, reasonable or achievable? What can, or should, go by the wayside? What can be rightly classified as vanity or striving after wind?

I encourage you to go into this new year by cutting yourself a little slack. Don’t feel compelled to live under pressure. Live under grace toward yourself as well as toward others.

Start with today’s to-do list. Maybe it can be shortened. Maybe it can be postponed. Maybe it can be wadded up and tossed.

Live purposefully but not pointlessly. Live intentionally. Most of all, live. No added pressure.

That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.—Ecclesiastes 3:13