Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Ask Aunt Dorcas: Putting Off the Hard Tasks

 Dear Aunt Dorcas,

I’d love to hear your thoughts on avoiding things that feel too hard or overwhelming. For me that tends to be tasks that either have a lot of details to keep track of or things that I know are outside my ability and require heavy dependence on Holy Spirit. It’s not that I avoid them forever, but there tends to be a period of avoidance before surrendering to the inevitable and diving in. Can you identify? What have you learned along the way about dealing with these types of tendencies?


Processing corn feels like a huge, overwhelming task.
But I had lots of help, and that made it much easier.

Dear Naomi,

Just this week, a young woman asked me how I motivate myself to go places. She knows me well enough, especially that introverted part of me, to know that I'm always ecstatic when plans are canceled. I find it really hard to get ready and go out the door, into the car, and off where I need to be.

“It’s not so bad when I’m doing something WITH someone,” she explained. “If I’ve arranged to go to church with someone else, I get ready and go. But if they don’t go, then I end up not going either.”

I thought about this. In the last week, I had gone to the fair and sat there for six hours even though it was a rainy day and very few people were even at the fair, let alone wandering past the authors’ table. I went to the doctor for a physical even though I dreaded it with a heavy knot in my stomach. I went to church twice on Sunday, and on Thursday I went to Emily’s Red Barn Coffee Hour, a weekly event.

In every case, I overcame my inertia because of commitments to someone else. I had told Bill Sullivan I’d be at the fair from 12-6, and I wanted to keep my word. Also, if I didn’t show up, he might not invite me to the Christmas event for authors and artists. I’d have to pay the doctor if I didn’t give him 24 hours’ notice. I was committed to teaching my class on Sunday morning, and on Sunday evening, Paul was going to speak so of course I needed to be there for him. And Emily feels discouraged if no one shows up for her coffee klatsch, so I always go.

We see here what motivates me to do the hard thing of showing up: prior commitments, other people counting on me, financial cost, and the shame of dropping the ball.

There are many many times when I think I really need to go get groceries or pick up some fresh fruit at Detering Orchards or take a box of books to the post office. Grudgingly, I comb my hair and pick out a clean outfit. Then I look at the clock and think, “This really could wait for tomorrow,” or “I think I can cram that box in the mailbox,*” or “I’ll bet Paul would love an excuse to run to Harrisburg.” Then I stay home and feel inordinately happy about it.

*Prepaid labels are a blessing, but I don’t know the post office ladies as well as I used to.

Your situation is different. It seems you avoid specific tasks that seem overwhelming. But I think we connect on the emotions and the dread.

I have a theory that we are all having a rough time of it. Our collective mental health isn’t very good, we all struggle with inertia, and normal tasks seem harder than they ought. I base this on my own experience, conversations with my grownup kids, watching my friends’ struggles, and people online. I feel like something has shifted, and not in a good way.

I have excellent reasons for being fragile and struggling with normal responsibilities, I'd say, because the past three years have brought an insane load of upheaval, change, tragedy, and challenges. I try to give myself grace. If I manage to hang onto my pool noodle until the wave passes, I give myself points for that.

But that doesn’t explain the pervasive cloud over the whole culture. The only upheaval I shared with everyone else was Covid, which was not experienced nearly the same by everyone, so it doesn’t seem like it would make us all equally discouraged.

But here we are, and things are hard.

My sense is that Covid, smartphones, an individualistic culture, the high cost of living, and probably other factors have all chipped away at our connectedness. We show the results in random, unexpected ways—such as struggling to do the tasks we find difficult.

I hope we learn whatever lessons God is trying to teach us and have the wisdom and courage to change.

So here’s my advice to you, both general and specific.

1. You’ve already identified a number of things about the tasks you find difficult. Lots of details, not in your skills or giftings, needing to rely on God. Good for you. Analyze a bit deeper and look for information, letting go of any shame and frustration. Are there outside factors such as fatigue that make it worse? Who is asking/telling you to do these things? What will happen if you don’t do them at all? Are they more difficult than they used to be? Jot down the answers and see if you can find insight or patterns.

2. Look at your life, schedule, and health—mental, physical, and spiritual. If you are constantly overwhelmed with surviving, anything beyond basic, simple work is going to feel like Too Much. If you can ease the stress, do that. If not, give yourself grace. This stage will pass. Also, recognize that factors like depression and ADHD will affect how you approach work. It helps to know what’s typical, and the information can help you find a path around the obstacles.

3. Make sure you actually need to do the things. Is this for sure your job and your assignment? Should it be delegated to someone else? If you feel a deep resentment, it’s often a sign that you are doing it because of pressure from someone else, and you ought to be saying “No” but feel like you just can’t.

4. Get others involved, even though this takes humility and a pushing back against an individualistic mindset. We need other people, connection, accountability, support, and understanding, all things that we are collectively losing in my [admittedly small] world. It takes humility to push back, and to admit, tell, and ask.

As mentioned, it’s the commitment to others that gets me going when I’d rather stay home. A contrived accountability helps me in other challenging areas. Maybe I’ll tell my daughter I can’t get online until I’ve worked an hour on an article, or I’ll post a chart where everyone can see if I’m taking daily walks.

When I’m stressed and/or can’t sleep, my brain finds it restful to scroll through reels, those captivating little movies on Instagram. I can easily lose all track of time. It’s embarrassing. So then I have a choice—keep trying to do better with a combination of shame and great effort, or recognize that I need assistance. I have a “fun money” jar where I save cash toward a girls’ trip, so I’ll text one of the daughters and tell them I have to put a dollar in the jar for every reel I watch that day.

Is it silly? Should a grown woman have the character and wisdom to not get sucked into the Instagram whirlpool? Yes and yes.

Does it work to get my daughter involved, and does it yank me out of that spiral? Also yes and yes.

Tea makes hard tasks easier.

5. Recognize that you are always learning and growing. We are always struggling in our cocoon until we break out into a new stage of growth. Change is really hard, and we don’t change until the misery of changing is less than the misery of staying the same. It will take you a while to learn to do the hard tasks right away, but you’ll get there, and meanwhile there will be failure, frustration, and fatigue.

Embrace the process.

One of the many things I learned through my husband’s catastrophic injuries three years ago is that God made our bones and muscles to need resistance, pushing, pulling, and hard work. That is the way of health, strength, and thriving.

The same seems to be true in emotional and spiritual maturity. Accept it. Something amazing is happening. You are going to get there.

I wish you all the best.

I hope the societal winds shift, the clouds lift, and we become more healthy and connected. I hope we all do our part to make this happen, even if it means telling someone we are having a hard time.

We were not designed to figure it out on our own.

That’s what I think.

Aunt Dorcas


  1. Amazing post and so very true. I am an introvert too and find myself avoiding commitments because I think it will over stress me, but then I don't go anywhere or do anything and I end up feeling isolated and bored. I'm trying to learn to ask God about things before I commit. Perhaps He wants me out of the house a little more, or He knows that at this time, daily life is all I can handle. Stopping and listening for His voice has made me better at being able to discern what activities will benefit me and which ones I'll just feel resentful off. It's just hard to stop and listen instead of going with my first instinct, which is usually to say no.

    Sincerely, Shannon Combs

    1. I like your methods and perspective!

  2. This article could not have been written at a better time! I’ve been feeling so bogged down with responsibilities & feeling resentful about them. I’m also finding myself uncharacteristically waiting until the last minute or pushing tasks off to another day! Some very good points to ponder!

  3. Thanks, Dorcas, for this very helpful article.

    Some of my personal reward systems seem kind of childish, but they have been helpful:
    --I generally wait to do the Wordle exercise till after I have had my devotions.
    --There is one news column that I usually wait to read till after I have made my bed.
    --My timer sometimes helps keep me from zoning out in front of the screen. Getting up from sitting very twenty minutes is considered good for your over-all health. So I often set the timer for 20 minutes when I sit down at the computer. If I don’t ignore it (which I admit to doing sometimes) it helps me stop or at least take a break. --Linda Rose

  4. I don't have any Instagram or Facebook account anymore. I kept them both longer than I wanted to because I thought I might need them sometime. I haven't regretted getting rid of either one.A few months in I started wondering why I had so much more energy to put into relationships and why I was reaching out to people with so much less effort. I think for me it was just getting rid of them. My husband has one of each, and I'm happy to let him sort through all the ridiculous ness and we watch a few reels together sometimes. That's fun. I wonder what would happen to social media consumption if everyone watched it with a buddy?