You know how they say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff”? There are so many self-help books and affirmations focused on the concept that if we make it all small, there is nothing left worth our worry. Do you know people who are completely relaxed and stress free about every tiny detail in their lives? I do. They’re high, and once they come off the high, they’re plagued with stress and worry too. The mediocre people who cross my path every day are sweating a lot of small stuff, and if I am honest, they are sweating a lot of BIG STUFF too. Maybe we should change perspective and approach the proverbial “they” about changing their mantra to “Don’t sweat the BIG STUFF.”
Let me offer a picture of my definition of BIG STUFF. BIG STUFF is the kind of life event or circumstance that is beyond your control. BIG STUFF is not planning your wedding. It’s desiring marriage but feeling trapped in single life with no eligible bachelors in sight. BIG STUFF is not choosing a college major. It’s landing a job post-graduation that will allow you to start the climb from broke college kid to a slightly less broke adult. BIG STUFF is not choosing how to discipline your toddler. It’s watching your adult child make huge, life altering mistakes day in and day out. Life is full of both detailed decision making and falling into place in good faith. I know as both a therapist and a believer, I am supposed to say I never worry about anything, but don’t forget I am just a mediocre therapist and believer. I offer this perspective as a chronic worrier who has often resolved to fall into place in good faith when life gets too big. In 2013, buying a fixer upper house in a low-income neighborhood in a community two hours and one state away from my job and classes was not the BIG STUFF. The BIG STUFF ravaged my life in the form of an EF4 tornado with 170 mph winds.
As I rushed out the door to head to a fundraiser at my church on a quiet Sunday evening, I turned and straightened up the bow on the wreath I had just made for the front door. One of my coping skills for trudging through the stressors of life (as both a commuter student and commuter wife) was restoring the charm of my slightly historic little home and adding some special touches with DIY projects and crafts. I think Alanis Morissette would have said something like, “It’s like remodeling your home just to watch a storm rip it apart.” Shortly into the Relay for Life fundraiser, those in charge rushed the attendees into a large hallway as the town storm sirens sounded. Living in Mississippi, there are many tornado scares but rarely any real damage. As we huddled into the hallway, for me, it was more of a time to mock those who dramatically and tearfully fear for their lives at the sound of thunder. The cries gradually morphed into phone calls and passing of news of actual damage in our little safe haven. I began overhearing details of destruction as close as one block from my home. My knowledge of tornados is mediocre at best, but I realized at that point if the hardware store about a football field’s distance from my house was “Flat! Completely gone!,” chances were, my house was no longer my home.
I began searching the crowd of people for my husband. I soon discovered that not only had my house been “hit,” my husband was pulling a superman out helping people, leaving me at the church to receive this news alone. I had a thirty-second moment of panic because though I am not an overly emotional girl, I knew how much money sat in my bank account (shout out to all those struggling newlyweds). I quickly pulled myself together when I thought of Pam Beasley (the dog, not the human). Pam Beasley is my first child, and though I am aware she is a dog, she becomes highly offended if one suggests that she is any less human than the rest of us. There was some walking in the rain (in a pencil skirt, tights, and leather Gianni Bini boots-No big deal) involved in reaching my actual street. As I rounded the corner, I saw my roof perched upside down on my front lawn. People swarmed my property like ants surrounding a freshly stomped anthill. I found my husband who confirmed that Pam Beasley is a survivor and was in his truck unharmed but with a large host of doggy PTSD symptoms. A man I did not know handed me a black garbage bag and instructed me to pack up any clothes that I could find. Sunday was laundry day, and the laundry room was gone. It did not have some damage. It had ceased to exist. As I made my way to step through the threshold into the laundry room, I was looking at my backyard and a huge drop off to the wet soil that used to be under my laundry room. After kicking broken contents of my life out of my way to reach the master bedroom, I began pulling clothes from dresser drawers and closets and stuffing the bag. Another man I did not know was kind enough to help me hold the garbage bag as I emptied my lingerie drawer and other personal items from my bedroom. Friends, all pride and privacy ceases to exist when the place you live starts to look more like an opened can than a house. As I walked away from my house that night with the clothes on my back soaking wet and my anxiety ridden Boston terrier in my arms, I did not feel stress or worry. I was full of faith and assurance that my God was big enough to create beautiful things out of even the most chaotic life circumstances. I continued to grow more at peace and thankful in the following days as friends offered a place to live, food to eat, and donations to help my husband and me piece our lives back together.
I focused my stress and worry on the little things in my life. I rewrote my graduate school papers that were due in the following week (Not only did my laptop have some water damage, my husband and a friend decided my damaged computer was a perfect opportunity to reenact the printer scene from Office Space). I focused on helping clean up my neighbors’ lots, as well as my own. I focused on sorting and washing all of the damp clothing recovered from my roofless, flooded house. I focused on organizing my closet in my temporary home. I focused on making sure everyone knew how grateful I was for the love and support. While I focused on stressing the small stuff, God took care of the BIG STUFF. My home was rebuilt (costing very little money beyond our insurance coverage) in less than five days, and I was allowed to return to my refinished home exactly 2 months after losing the original one thanks to Catastrophe Inc. (HGTV), Baggett Construction, Griffin Architecture, McAlheny Plumbing, and so many others. The friends who loved on us and held our hands through our struggles became family away from family. Our small town and tiny house became the place we would raise our 3 beautiful daughters. Any stress-motivated plan I could have constructed would not have compared to the conclusion of that beautiful chapter in my life. I am so glad I did not sweat the BIG STUFF.
The things I could control during that catastrophe in my life were tiny details that made me feel like a better, more productive person. Pay attention to the little details in your life. Worry about whether your boots are too casual for work. Worry about finding new nutritious but tasty snacks for your kids to eat. Worry about keeping your closet organized by color to make your mornings easier. Sweat the small stuff because focusing on the tiny things makes you feel like a huge success. Then while you are focusing on these tiny aspects of self and your daily life, focus on the way the clouds are sailing by more swiftly today. Focus on the fact that you made it across town and only caught one red light. Focus on the kisses and “hold me’s”. Focus on the smiles you see throughout the day. In a chaotic world filled with an uncontrollable, unpredictable social and political climate, choose to do the best you can in the moment. Be mindful. Find peace in your mediocre, boring life. Peace in the BIG STUFF will follow. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.
Photo by Jamie Gominger