Have you ever gotten to a point where no matter how much effort you put in, the results are never really what you expected? Where no matter how many steps you take forward, the end goal drifts further into the distance?
From personal experience, I’ve found that in some cases, this frustration and other similar feelings come from our inner-selves screaming out for a metaphorical spring cleaning. Only once we’ve let go of the unnecessary parts of our lives can we receive and act upon the voice of God. As we look towards the new year, it’s the perfect time to untangle this sometimes confusing, and ever-busy life. Earlier this year, I was in the midst of this frustration. At the time I wrote in my journal:
“I’m tired of being tired, tired of feeling like I’m constantly trying to prove myself but to no avail. I feel as if I’m at the bottom of a mountain, not where I should be – scrambling to make progress but I’m not”
I became deflated to the point that I became unproductive, slept strangely early and developed anxiety about being out in public. I had no idea what wrong, I just knew that I wasn’t in a good place but I didn’t have the spiritual, mental or emotional capacity to resolve it.
‘An inheritance claimed early will not be blessed in the end’ – Proverbs 20:21
After a while, it emerged that one of the reasons for this bout of debilitating frustration was because I had been comparing myself to what I saw around me. Everyone seemed to be making progress except for me. What was worse was that I had many goals that I wanted to achieve that felt out of my reach. Instead of working on them, I floated through life – paralysed by the desire to see things come to fruition instantaneously. I felt like if things weren’t coming to fruition now then I would ‘miss it’. This fear caused me to take on a number of responsibilities outside of work, which I couldn’t really handle. But I did then anyway; to give myself a sense of purpose, importance and progress.
When we rush through life trying to pick up ‘projects’ and get ‘busy’ in an attempt to control our lives or speed up the process, what may seem like being conscientious or hard working is actually thinly veiled insecurity. If the highest form of believing is living as if what God says is true – in this case that God’s timing is perfect – then why was I rushing? We tend to spend so much time trying to have our ‘finger in many pies’ that we run out of hands to actually pick up the pie and enjoy eating it.
So it became too much for me; I didn’t have time or energy to think or add value to all my commitments. I heard God say ‘you need to get rid it all and come back to the bare essentials. You need to declutter’. Declutter, means to ‘remove unnecessary items from (an untidy or overcrowded place)’; unnecessary being the operative word. It’s easy to think that we should only let go of things when they become harmful or useless, but actually we may need to get rid good things which may be weighing us down, and slowly we are able to breathe again.
Stay Connected to the River
Acting from a place of insecurity or anxiety is not only a symptom of our unbelief in certain areas, but it can also limit the vivacity with which we live our lives. My friend Feyi-Kemi shared a video with me called ‘Stay Connected to the River’, where the speaker Jentezen Franklin highlights that God is like a flow of living water running through us, like fresh blood through our arteries. When we pick up weights that we’re not meant to pick up, the river becomes filled with debris and we lose vivacity, momentum and direction. We miss out on the dynamism that is a life with Jesus.
Staying connected also means remembering where we started – with God in the Spirit. As Paul puts it bluntly in Galatians 3:3 (MSG):
‘Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? […] Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God.’
Sometimes, we start something that we know deep down, we’re ‘meant’ to do it, but along the line we try to over-engineer it in our strength only. We forget that it’s really God that got the wheels turning and therefore He is the only one that can sustain it. Yes, God does give us ability and skills to carry out key tasks in life, but we are supposed to work in tandem with what is given to us through God’s Spirit.
Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain. - Psalm 127:1
So I began my mission to declutter and let go. Let go from some commitments which looked good on paper but weren’t part of God’s plan for me, from the external measuring sticks that I had applied on myself. I began (and continue) to focus on the one gold standard that never changes: developing a personal relationship with God. It’s so easy to let what’s going on around us to infiltrate and impose ill-fitting parameters on our lives, which is why decluttering is an active and ongoing choice.
Trying to squeeze unnecessary things into your life will only make you more weighed down, to the point where you can no longer make even the smallest step of progress.
Part of decluttering means figuratively cleaning out your ears out too. We can listen to so much of what is going on around us, both positive and negative voices, that it becomes difficult to distinguish our own thoughts. We become deaf to the ‘still small voice’ of God. This means that whichever voice is the loudest that day wins, and we end up meandering through life, unable to gain enough momentum to do something meaningful.
This build-up of debris isn’t something that you notice immediately – but at some point you find yourself off-track and your life becomes blocked with the pressure and frustrations at the limitations of your human ability. You may still be able to do great things while blocked, but it may take a disproportionate level of exertion, where the goal posts may quickly move before you reach them.
Only in hindsight as I was writing this post did I realise that I had been sent this video way before my bout of frustration; the solution had been provided before my challenge even came. I believe if we spend more time reminding ourselves of what we have seen, learned and understood about this journey, we can become more focused and at ease about the direction of our lives.
Try it for yourself
If you’re feeling frustrated or stifled, take a step back an examine your true motives for taking on certain commitments - was it the desire to prove yourself, or is it a deep, innate compulsion that tells you this is what you’re meant to do? The former may be causing your feeling of frustration. Feelings of frustration can be good indicators that you need to take stock of what is really ruling your life. It’s not always a comfortable experience, but as the saying goes – life begins outside of your comfort zone, anyway.
It’s not a one-step process, it’s not a quick swoop – instead it takes time and regular reevaluation when new demands arise. But once you’ve created space for God’s voice and His Spirit to flow through you, your direction will return and you will be empowered to say ‘no’ when necessary. Once you’ve let go of those unnecessary weights, you’re free to expand in the areas which matter most.