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Grace Under Pressure, But Not Really

By Karen Austin

kdamirrorselfiebeigeThe moving van comes Monday.

After living in Wichita, Kansas for eight years, my family and I are moving to Indiana.

I have been trying to fulfill my current roles and responsibilities here with some decorum, but on Friday the 13th, I found myself yelling at the full-time sister missionaries.

They called when I was still trying to file grades and when I still wasn’t released from my demanding calling. I had spent most of the day trying to contact the moving company to confirm the van and failed to do so.

When the missionaries asked me to go visit an investigator right that minute, I bellowed: “Help me or leave me alone!”

That was a new low.

Where did I go wrong?

Yes, I had a lot of external pressures, but I didn’t do enough to manage my internal landscape. Since that day, I decided to forge a few mantras in an effot to keep me on course.

One. Take things one day at a time (if not one hour at a time). Two. Count my blessings, and Three. Find the humor in the situation.

I still find myself losing composure from time to time, but these mantras are keeping me from descending into an deeper levels of sorrow, anger and confusion.

I’m also trying to recall hymns and scriptures that help me maintain focus, gratitude and humility.

I also hope that I can keep a tender heart when someone bellows at me. No matter what they might be saying overtly, I might consider that their underlying message might be the same as mine that day. I should then help them–and if I absolutely have no resources to do so, I could at least cause them no harm.

What tools do you use to get through rough patches—including but not limited to moving?

About Karen Austin

After living in UT, HI, CA, VA, DC, WI, WV & KS, Karen now lives in Newburgh, IN with her husband and two children. She's been a BYU writing tutor, an English teacher, technical writer, director of academic support services, and aging studies adjunct. She's reinventing herself--again. New role still pending, but mature athlete, thrift store fashionista, and court jester are strong candidates. She maintains the blog The Generation Above Me.

6 thoughts on “Grace Under Pressure, But Not Really”

  1. Oh yes. It is so easy to get derailed when the pressure is on and my brain is full of a zillion demands and looming deadlines.

    My current tools:
    Conscious decision to Stop. Breathe. Be present. Discern. Connect.
    Mantra repeated again and again as needed: "Assume that people are doing the best they can. Appreciate that."

  2. You feel guilty because you raised your voice to the sister missionaries, but you did not call them names. They were pressuring you to carry more, when you were unable to carry the load you already had, & you forcefully re-ordered their priorities, vis-a-vis your ability to pick up & carry more of the load. You did not do anything wrong. You gave them a memorable object lesson in priorities that will last long after their missions are completed.

    When it is possible to speak softly, that is usually preferable, but often it is NOT as effective. When people are pressuring me to re-order my priorities, it is usually NOT for my benefit. Most of the time, it is for their benefit, or to compensate for their own lack of planning. The Lord invites; he does not pressure, & he does not demand, & neither should we.

    "I won't be able to help you with that" is a response that has worked for me. I give no reason, just the statement, occasionally followed by, "Was there anything else?" This is the flip side of the coin when we ask "How can I help?" You help when you can, so don't feel guilty when you cannot.

  3. 2 more workable responses:
    I'm so sorry – my quota is already full for then. I can't do that, but I could do this.
    And think of something less demanding you could do – even with the investigator.
    "My quota's full so I can't do that, but please tell me her name so I can pray for her and put her name on the temple prayer roll".
    If you can think of a doable "but I can do ..,," people still feel they have your support and caring.
    Even if it's to substitute to teach a class and you can't – think of 2 or 3 other names to suggest. That is still a degree of helping.

  4. When a woman pressured me about a time-consuming assignment she wanted me to accept two months after my husband died, I tried politely declining. When she ratcheted up the lever of guilt and I cried in frustration, she reprimanded that she and her husband were busy too — parenting their star-student children, working at high-pressure (high-paying) jobs, and serving in admittedly demanding callings — but she also had the additional "burden" of supporting him and prioritizing time to spend with him to nurture their relationship. I didn't have to do that, so of course (she said) I should be able and willing to do my share in what she asked.

    In hindsight, I realize she had no idea the vinegar-laced salt her words scrubbed into my newly-cleaved heart and overwhelmed mind. She had no concept of grieving a spouse, or suddenly single-parenting, or returning to work after two decades as a stay-at-home mom.

    In that moment, though, when she refused — literally refused — to take my "no" as a valid answer, I did raise my voice. I did tell her, "NO, my daughter needs me more than you do!" And I did hang up on her before she could argue further.

    I'm still not proud of that moment five and a half years ago, but even in hindsight I believe I had no other option. (Well, perhaps I needn't have raised my voice quite as high as I did …)

    Best of luck in your move from Wichita, Karen. Hopefully your words opened those young sisters' eyes to better see the needs of those around them.

  5. I'm taking a break from packing / cleaning to comment. The moving van comes in 2 days, and I may not be online at all for a long time. Thanks for understanding.

    MB: Good tools for me to add to my tool box. Thank you.

    Marivene & Nana12: These are good alternatives. I assumed ward members knew that if I were moving in 10 days, that I would be overwhelmed, but maybe they didn't realize how taxing that was on me. I should start with being kind; instead I was very emotional, thinking they just didn't care if I was overwhelmed.

    Teresa: Oh, my. I think people don't realize that grieving requires time and space. Maybe she thought being busy would help you "move on." But grieving is very individual and follows it own time line. You actually did pretty well to stay in that discussion as long as you did. I probably would have hung up after the first request! You are very kind to now see that she had "no idea" how her words were being received. God bless us all to work more on empathy–on both sides of the equation. I should be more empathetic to full time missionaries. That's a really difficult assignment.

  6. A while ago, I read something along the lines of "If I say "yes", what am I saying "no" to?" If it's another hour of tv, well, then yes, I can help you out. If it's spending time with my kids or husband, it may not be a yes. I will do a ton of stuff, for my ward, my family, my community, whatever, but don't push me too far. Last year, I was PTSA president at the middle school — a lot easier than the elementary, I'll say that! — but when my term was up, the new one kept asking if I would just ….. because I'm so good at it. When she got to five things that were expressly the job of the president, I stopped her and told her what I would do. And more importantly, what I wouldn't. None of them would have taken excessive amounts of time, but all of them would have. I kept one or two, but refused any more. Did our friendship suffer? Not really. Did the school suffer? Not really. She either managed to find someone to do what she needed, did it herself or let it slide.
    So what are some tools I use when things get hairy? Knowing my limits. Saying yes when I can, no when I can't — or won't. Giving myself a set amount of time to throw a pity party, or revel in whatever emotion I'm feeling — then move on. I know I live in a bubble, so I reasonably expect that other people do, too. I don't know what's in their bubble directly — sick parent, sick kid, classes, difficult child, whatever — so if someone gripes at me, I don't take it personally, because I didn't think about their bubble, much like I wouldn't expect them to know what is in mine.
    Oh, and of course, I procrastinate. Never underestimate the amount of things you can do in five minutes that you could have had five hours to do!


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