Have you ever followed a paper trail? I did when I saw confetti sized paper all around the front office and a fountain of paper stuck in the shredder. At the end of the trail, I found the machine stuffed beyond capacity.

This was not the first time. Thus the neon sticker advising users the shredder was designed to run for eight continuous minutes, after which it needed an hour cool-down period. Who knew shredders had a limit? I didn’t—until we burned out the first one.

Hoping to avoid buying a third shredder, I put on my technician’s hat. Off came the lid. Not only was the catch bin overstuffed, but so were the blades. Tiny scraps of paper were tightly fused between each blade, immobilizing them. For the second time this year I gathered my screw driver, razor knife and tweezers for the delicate operation of freeing the sharp fins.  

Two hours later, the blades freely rotated. And I learned a life lesson.

The previous weekend, my left jaw screamed for attention. It did not open and close smoothly. Several times it got caught in the open position, requiring me to manually manipulate it back in place. Monday I saw my dentist who identified my injury as a jaw sprain.

Shall I pause here for a minute to allow you a chance to laugh, guffaw and make jokes about a jaw sprain?

The dentist assured me it had nothing to do with talking too much, but was a function of my deteriorating TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint). She asked me all the typical questions about TMJ care: had I been wearing my mouth guard at night? Was I eating hard foods or chewing gum? I honestly answered each question. Then came the clincher, “Are you under a lot of stress?”

My Dentist knows me well. Instead of waiting for my answer, she took my hand and said, “I know you have a lot going on right now.”

I thought I had a good handle on my stress. Apparently, my body did not agree.

While fixing the shredder, I had a lightbulb moment. It failed because the warning sign of nearing capacity was ignored. I imagine the person shredding thought just one more piece.

My life is like that paper shredder. . .I can say yes, it won’t take too much time. . .Oh, you need me to run that errand for you? Of course, I’d be glad to. . . Sure I have time to take on that project.

I keep adding just one more commitment or task to my life bin, thinking I can do it. I keep pushing “just a little” past capacity.

For a time that works. Until suddenly, the last piece enters the shredder path and brings it to a grinding halt. Or in my case, my jaw says “ENOUGH!” 

I needed that visual of the jammed shredder blades to refocus attention to my capacity. I thought about the residue left behind when I push too hard for too long. My body reacts. My relationships suffer. My inner spirit feels disheveled. If only I had a neon sticker warning me, and those around, of my energy, bandwidth, and time nearing over-commitment.

Here’s to paper shredders that get their cool-down periods, jaws that move as God created them to, and life bins that don’t overflow from ignoring capacity.

What signals do you experience showing you may be near or past capacity? What neon sticker do you put in your routine or relationships to help you see it before it is too late?