The opposite of availability

So many things compete for our attention! Detail from artwork at Children’s National Medical Center,Washington, DC, March 2014

So many things compete for our attention!
Detail from artwork at Children’s National Medical Center,Washington, DC, March 2014

“The opposite of availability is not unavailability, but an overcrowded heart.”
Sue Monk Kidd

Did any of you wince inwardly on reading these words? I know I did. It’s the sort of observation we know to be true even as we wish it wasn’t. So many of us have a hard time saying “no” to new opportunities, potential friendships, or additional experiences even though our lives are already filled to the brim with good things.

Choosing between good, better and best is no easy task. But on reflection, perhaps I don’t have to start there. Maybe there are a few not-so-great things taking up real estate in my overwhelmed brain.  Is there any junk I can clear out of my home, heart and schedule? I must admit, there certainly is.

I don’t know what anyone else’s list might look like, but I can start with eliminating negative thoughts and worry, fretting over minor irritations, and berating myself (aloud or silently) for simple mistakes.  The cumulative effects of these mental habits use up more energy than I might realize.

Moving on to more concrete items, I can easily live without glossy, attractive advertising for items I don’t need, or gossipy online “news” stories of dubious credibility.  I can turn the telephone off for a few hours (or even days!) and check my phone messages once daily, or re-direct them to email, so as not to be sidetracked. I can take steps to minimize junk mail, junk TV, junk calls and texts, and junk food and drinks. These distractions consume countless small increments of time that add up to hours of life.

Once I eliminate all the things I will never miss, it might be easier to find time for what is really important to me. Sometimes this will mean decreasing the time allocated for certain activities, at least temporarily.  Or it may mean learning to be comfortable with being totally unavailable for awhile, knowing that periodic unavailability for one opportunity opens doors to others.

Do you struggle with the conflicted emotions that go with having an overcrowded heart? What are some of your secrets for being available for the people and projects that matter most?


  1. I give up. I cannot find Waldo! 🙂
    Good morning, Julia!
    Yes, I winced.
    I like your “just say no to junk” philosophy, however. On a more physical / less philosophical note, this morning is “trash day,” so yesterday’s sunset found me attacking an old and dilapidated easy-chair in the back yard, to cram as much as I could into the trash bin.
    Out with the old!
    “In with the new” can wait a little longer, I think.
    “Stuff” takes up energy, too!

    • Susan, that’s Waldo at the top, toward the right, but he’s wearing a lion costume and looking a little dazed, so you might not have recognized him. He figured out that red and white striped shirt was a giveaway.

      Reading about your attack on the chair made me smile. Jeff and I have managed to dismantle some pretty huge things into bin-sized pieces, just to avoid a bulk pickup. Of course we wouldn’t have to do this if we didn’t have this idea that we had to keep stuff until it was unfit for any sort of use by anyone else. Stuff definitely takes up energy, whether the stuff is new or old. So I too am on an “out with the old, hold for awhile on the new” kick. It’s amazing how much a short “cooling-off” period leaves me realizing that I didn’t really need or want that (fill in the blank with any number of things) after all.

  2. Amy

    I have begun to say no to things I know I don’t enjoy. It can be hard because sometimes you feel like if you don’t say yes it won’t get done but I find it does. Praying for you.

    • Thank you Amy, we need the prayers and really appreciate your steadfast support.

      The good thing about saying no to things you don’t enjoy is that it might enable someone else who enjoys whatever the task is (cooking, planning parties, shopping errands) to do it instead. We almost always do better work when we do what we enjoy, so that approach theoretically would raise the overall quality level…although something tells me it wouldn’t work on, say, cleaning toilets or filing papers. I haven’t met anyone who likes to do those things. I guess the bottom line is that we all have WAY too many things we MUST do, whether we enjoy them or not, to use whatever time is left for even more things we don’t like. We all need some time to do what we love to do. Speaking of which, let’s get together soon for a chat over tea. 🙂

  3. bobmielke

    I went through a mental breakdown trying to please everybody but myself. I worked myself to a frazzle and wound up in a mental ward of a local hospital for suicidal depression. I was released 10 days later not because I was all better but because my medical insurance ran out. I don’t handle stress well ever since that breakdown.

    • Bob, I am so sad to hear about your experience, but unfortunately it does seem to be a more common scenario than we like to admit or think about. There is simply too much pressure on almost all of us, from too many directions, and some of us grew up thinking our mission in life was to meet the approval of those we care about. There are always some people who will take advantage of anybody who has an over-developed sense of responsibility for making everything OK for everybody. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to want to please people, but as you found out, in many cases that’s setting our sights on the impossible, and blaming ourselves when we can’t work miracles with human limitations. I’m glad you got at least some help, however inadequate it may have been; I had a close friend who, tragically, did not, and I think of her almost every day that I live, and wonder whether things might have been different if others had realized the extent of the burdens she bore so silently.

      It’s good that you recognize your need to protect yourself against too much stress. Sometimes our minds and bodies send us a clear message: “Enough!” and we are wise if we listen to that warning.

      • bobmielke

        I’ve learned when to say no and when to just walk away.

        • Those are hard lessons, but sooner or later we all have to learn them.

  4. HarryS

    A Morning Resolve

    I will try this day to live a simple, sincere and serene life, repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity, and self-seeking; cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity, and the habit of holy silence; exercising economy in expenditure, generosity in giving, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a childlike faith in God.

    In particular I will try to be faithful in those habits of prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating, and sleep which I believe the Holy Spirit has shown me to be right.

    And as I cannot in my own strength do this, nor even with a hope of success attempt it, I look to thee, O Lord God my Father, in Jesus my Savior, and ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Amen. — Forward Day by Day

    • Harry, thanks for sharing that beautiful prayer! It sets the bar high, but also provides the support to help us get there.

  5. Sheila

    Useless mental habits equals STRESS! That’s me, I’m sorry to say! I love the photo that you chose to accompany your blog today. It’s busy but at the same time delightful! I think I’ll strieve to “take time and make time” today. It will mean less electronics and less communication but I may have more energy. That would be nice! Hope your “Denton World” is wonderful today! 🙏💛 Pleasant thoughts of you always, Sheila

    • Hi Sheila, I’m glad you like the painting. I loved it. It is one of three that hang in the reception area of the cardiology clinic where Matt goes. I featured one of the other two in this post. I wish I could find out something about the artist.

      The Denton World is peaceful today, which is a huge part of wonderful for us lately. A bit drearier than we would like, weather-wise, but at least it’s not too hot and not too cold. Hope you have had a lovely weekend!

  6. You are so reading my mind today. And many days for that matter. I’m retired with no one that needs my care giving and yet, I’m overwhelmed. Trying to find the places where my little bit of energy would be better focused has been a real challenge but I think it’s coming to light with the quiet meditation of weed pulling. Finding what feeds my soul the most is the direction I must go. Great post and thanks for the redirection. Hope you are all doing well enough. hugs.

    • Marlene, I keep telling you that we are twins separated at birth! Weeding really works for me, on so many levels. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment, however limited, and it is therapeutic because it doesn’t take much mental energy. “Well enough” is a pretty accurate way to describe how we’re doing, and some days, that’s a lot to be thankful for! Hope you’ve had a nice, restful weekend.

      • I always thought I had a twin out there. 🙂 I’ve been pining for her all my life. 😦 Someone was missing and now I know where she is. 🙂 My last husband asked if I had a vendetta for weeds. No, I just felt so much peace out in the yard and it cost me nothing. I would often forget to come in to cook or even eat. Sometimes when people ask me how I’m doing, I say “good enough.” It’s all we can hope for some days. I figure every day above ground is a good day. I have another chance. As for the weekend, it was nice, restful, not so much. 🙂 I’ll catch up on the rest soon.:) Giant squishy hugs.

        • Marlene, I like weeding because it’s one of the few things I do where I feel like I see instant results. Same for washing dishes and making beds. Yes, “good enough” can be great, in my opinion. All it takes is a few really harrowing days to bring it home to me how truly good it is to be able to say “good enough.” I’m glad your weekend was nice, even if not restful! Maybe this one will be more serene. Giant hugs to you too!

  7. Ann

    Another blog written just for me! I certainly struggle with being over-committed and spending too much time on trivial things. There’s an old saying that ” if you want to get something done, give it to a busy woman.” Couple that with “anything worth doing is worth doing well” and you have a glimpse of my days lately. I’m trying to learn to say ‘no’. Looking forward to others’ comments. Nice to know I’ not alone with this problem.
    I’m a big advocate of turning off the ringer on my phone and turning on the answering machine!

    • Ann, that phone is driving us crazy; even though we don’t answer junk calls, we still have to be interrupted to check the caller ID. It seems as if about 60-70% of the calls are pure junk (robocalls etc.) and most of the others are non-urgent interruptions, such as medical appointment reminders. Plus now when I check my messages, they leave annoying messages that consist of about 5 seconds of silence — obviously, just to be annoying. I’m pretty aggressive about blocking numbers, but the robocallers just get around that by changing numbers. I’m thinking of creating a voicemail message that says “Hello, until after the election, we are no longer answering our phone. If you really need to reach us, you will know how to do it.” 😀 Does that sound too un-friendly? I realize I could eliminate the problem by disconnecting our old-fashioned “land line” phone, but I also don’t want to have a cell phone turn into a prosthetic appendage. Oh, the dilemmas of “modern” life!

      No, you are far from alone with this problem. Here’s hoping we can find ways to be alone WITHOUT this problem! Until then, hang in there and take lots of actual and virtual breaks for tea and other forms of serenity. I hereby decree: “ALL TRIVIAL MATTERS ARE HENCEFORTH OPTIONAL.” But I am opting out of deciding what’s trivial and what’s not… 🙂

  8. Rene

    Hope you are well, Julia.

    • Rene, thanks for checking in. We are doing OK. How about you? Hope all is well in your world. We have a new grandson! You can see his photo on my Facebook page (there’s a link on the right side of the blog page). No matter how hard everything else may be, there are always reasons to smile.

  9. LB

    Yes, Julia, we all do struggle with conflicted emotions and with finding that balance.
    I have a friend who sends a text every so often to say that she will be unavailable for a certain period of time while she recharges. Another friend stays home (becomes unavailable) while she bonds with her house.
    You in particular, dear Julia, need to do the things that bring you peace, and step away from things that might take too much energy.

    • I like your friends’ ideas! I’m paying close attention to how various activities affect my ability to sleep and my general functional level. Interestingly, some things that require energy act as an investment that pays dividends, putting me slightly ahead of where I was; others are simply exhausting. Unfortunately, most of the latter type are usually not optional, but sometimes there are work-arounds.

      Thanks for being here and for caring!

  10. Trish

    Wise words my new friend — there seems to be much new stuff crowding into our lives in recent weeks! Good call to do away with the unimportant and unnecessary. See you soon!

    • Hi Trish, so good to see you here! I don’t need to tell you what I’ve been up to for the past 2.5 weeks– suffice it to say that it has been a welcome distraction from medical matters and other worries. WOW, hard to believe how the first couple of weeks of this semester flew by. Are you taking any other courses? I’m taking COM 785 too, and wondering whether I should have my head examined to try a full load my first semester, but there were pressing reasons for doing so. I can’t wait to meet face to face!

  11. blseibel

    Wow, negative thoughts, berating myself, fretting.. I spend waaaayyy too much time on these. I am trying to make a conscious effort to shut these down, not always successful but trying.

    I try not to over schedule to leave room for spontaneous things with the people who matter most. I have also cut down on computer time and that is great.

    • B, I think you have just mentioned two great ideas for staying sane and happy: don’t over schedule, and don’t let the computer suck me into a time warp that will steal my whole day before I know it. I tend to over schedule as I have an unrealistic idea of how long it takes me to do things. I try to build in “buffer” time but often it’s still not enough. Spontaneity is wonderful and should be prioritized. The computer is a blessing and a curse. It’s a great servant but a terrible master. I try to plan the amount of time I can spend when I sit down in front of it. Hard to do, but essential.

Thanks for encouraging others by sharing your thoughts:

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