Over the past several of months, I’ve frequently felt overwhelmed. Occasionally this has been attributable to an overly busy schedule, sick and whiny kids, or the to-do list I just can’t tackle. But typically it’s related to more emotional reasons. It can be connected to personal struggles, such as waiting for my daughter. Other times it’s wrapped up in the overwhelming tragedy that fills this world — the dire straits of orphans and refugees, the problems of racism and oppression, natural disasters and disease, ceaseless wars and violence — the relentlessness of it all can leave me in despair.
However, over the last few weeks God has tenderly and progressively revealed to me that sometimes being overwhelmed is a sweet gift, and something that should be experienced on a regular basis.
Let me clarify.
I am not saying that we should live in a perpetual state of chaos and burn-out!
However, we should be living in such a way that we are consistently aware of our desperate need for God. If I always feel that I have my schedule, tasks, and responsibilities under control (or am constantly striving to attain those ends), I may be in danger of living a self-sufficient life that is unwilling to embrace the discomfort and disruption that accompanies following Christ. If I resent feeling stretched and weak, and think I should only make decisions that feel sustainable in my own strength, I may be in danger of neglecting the strength found in Christ. If I refuse to engage the harrowing process of being exposed to the pain and suffering of others, I may be in danger of neglecting the compassion Christ calls me to have.
Ultimately, being overwhelmed can cultivate a closer communion with God.
It also reminds us that we are not God.
When we are overwhelmed with our schedules, or all the endeavors we want to but cannot pursue, we are humbled to remember our weakness, limitations, and need for rest. This evokes awe of our limitless God, who always accomplishes His purposes in His timing, who is completely self-sufficient, and in need of nothing.
When we are overwhelmed by people — tired of dealing with the same tantrums, the same attitudes, the same conflicts, the same disappointments — we are humbled to remember the steadfast love of God. This evokes awe of His perfect patience, His long suffering, His forgiveness, and His grace.
When we are overwhelmed by the brokenness of the world, and frustrated over our lack of power to fix it, we are humbled to remember that the weight of the world is not on our shoulders, but is in subjection under His feet. This evokes awe of our sovereign God who has the power and gives the promise to execute perfect mercy and justice.
When we are overwhelmed with questions and struggle to reconcile what God says with what we observe or feel, we are humbled to remember that our understanding is finite. This evokes awe of His infinite and unsearchable wisdom. The more deeply we know Him, the more His incomprehensible greatness is accentuated, which offers great comfort as we learn to trust His unchangeable attributes rather than rely on our limited knowledge.
I think we’re often tempted to assume that being overwhelmed indicates a need to step back from what we’re doing (and sometimes it does). But I think more often than not, being overwhelmed is meant to drive us to know God more deeply.
Sometimes we have no choice but to remain in the source of our struggle (such as my wait for my daughter), but sometimes we could avoid it. In a season of particular struggle about human suffering, I could lessen the temptation by not reading about trafficking, by not praying for orphans, by not serving refugees, etc. In a shallow sense, disengaging and numbing myself would make it easier.
But, by the grace of God, the struggle that tempted me to recoil from Christ forced me to draw closer. He convicted me of my casual pursuit to knowing Him, and how such an approach was beginning to endanger my walk as I started to question His character. In a painful but necessary way, He let me get to the point of being overwhelmed with despair to show me how thirsty I was for more of Him and how the only way to quench that thirst was to dig deeper into the well of His Word.
Whatever we feel overwhelmed by — schedule, circumstances, relationships, or more theological issues — we have reason to take heart. God is seeking to show us more of Himself.