Q: Professionally and personally, I keep in touch with — and often counsel — hundreds of people, in person and by email. Sometimes I feel like my caring has crossed a line, and the life is getting sucked out of me. How can I live gratefully when I often feel overwhelmed and cranky about demands on my time and energy? — Christina, Australia
A: Dear Christina,
Your question is one with which many of us can sympathize in a time when expanding communications bring us in touch with practically as many people around the world as we’re willing to draw into our lives. Even when we maximize use of social-networking tools, we can pretty rapidly come to feel that it is altogether too much. Even so, this is not exactly a new issue. Br. David once described being in Vienna, with people pulling at him from every direction. Exhausted and distraught, he “happened” to open a book of Mozart’s letters to the line, “They’re tearing me apart in Vienna.” The simple, synchronistic answer that it comes with the territory was more helpful than any practical tips.
For a person who cares beyond the norm, there’s a balance to be struck between carefully regulating relationships (as suggested by this helpful business article) and giving out of the fullness of one’s heart. There are many ways to reassure people that they matter to you even when you need to limit the time you spend with them: such as seeing them fully in the moment, reminding them that they’re in your thoughts even when you’re not together, using eCards to convey “a thousand words” along with a short text, and remembering their birthdays and other special occasions. You can also bear in mind that the whole world does not rest on your shoulders (see the “Space Between Givens” quotes).
The best you can do is to keep discovering what works and what doesn’t work for you, keeping your own needs in the mix, finding your way day-by-day. You can be sure that I will be rooting for you foremost to take good care of yourself, knowing that that “self” – constantly being “carried by great winds across the sky” as Robert Bly puts it in his translation of a Chippewa Indian saying – is your vehicle for giving to others.
Patricia Campbell Carlson