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Why We Get Overwhelmed

It sounds like the beginning of a painfully obvious question, but I want to ask it anyway: Why do you get overwhelmed? I’ve been thinking more about this as my responsibilities have grown over the past year. It’s encouraging to know that an overwhelming season of life is something we all experience, but I’ve been processing exactly why we feel overwhelmed when life gets crazy, and what we can do about it. Below are some of my thoughts.


1. We get overwhelmed because we live in a fallen world.

Things are not the way they’re supposed to be. Sin affects everything from your mood to your attitude to your job to your desires. Being overwhelmed is a normal part of living in an abnormal world. We get overwhelmed because we are sinners, and we live in a sinful world.

2. We get overwhelmed because we are people-pleasers.

We don’t know how to say “No.” We take on more than we can bear. We don’t want to disappoint people. What others think is so important that the thought of deferring from their request seems impossible. Fear of man is a snare, Scripture says (Proverbs 29:25), and it’s tough to not get trapped.

3. We get overwhelmed because we are unaware of our own capacities.

Someone else’s capacity is not your capacity. We tend to view that mommy or pastor or blogger or author or businessman or whomever and think, “They can handle so much in life. So I can too.” Maybe you can. Or Maybe you can’t. Don’t compare yourself to others. Know your capacity. Grow in self-awareness and figure out how much you can handle, and don’t feel bad if your capacity is not as high as that other person.

4. We get overwhelmed because we are perfectionists.

I’ve been thinking more about the issue of perfectionism in the Christian life. It’s good to seek excellence, competence, and to be diligent in all you do. But — and going back to point number one — because we live in a fallen world, we take this too far. We’re not content with a 3.3. GPA; we must get a 4.0 GPA. We’re not content with a good sermon that feeds the sheep; we want to hit a home run every time we preach. And on and on we can go.

Back when I was in college I was taught to say “I’m a perfectionist” if ever asked “What’s your greatest weakness?” in an interview. Looking back on it, that’s probably not a good answer. But it is technically correct. Perfectionism is just that: a weakness. And it’s exhausting, often leading to heartache and burnout.

So much of our overwhelming feelings in life come from forgetting that the results of what we do are largely out of our hands. Your job is effort; God’s job is outcomes. Don’t mistake the two. You do your job and let God do his.

We are called to be competent, but not perfectionists. Pray. Work hard. Do your best. And move on, trusting God with the results.

5. We get overwhelmed because we are unorganized.

It’s amazing how just being a little more organized can relieve a lot of stress. Here, I would recommend reading a book or two on Christian productivity. If you want a quick, actionable book on the subject, see Tim Challies’ Do More Better. If you want a 5,000-foot view of productivity and how the gospel changes what you do, see Matt Perman’s, What’s Best Next. Either way, I’m convinced that you and I would be less overwhelmed if we were more organized.

6. We get overwhelmed because we live in the future.

It’s so hard to live in the present when you have a lot going on. Even more, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you know you have a potential anxiety-inducing thing (e.g., a test, a job interview, etc.) coming up soon. This is hard, and I’m by no means an expert. I’m convinced that this is not something that gets better overnight, but rather, is the product of growing through experience, and by growing in your personal emotional intelligence. To help you deal with your daunting future, Scripture suggests that you rejoice in the Lord (Phil. 4:4-6), cast your anxieties on the Lord (1 Peter 5:7), and trust him with your future (Matt. 6:25).

Overwhelmed? Join the party. You are just like the rest of us. While being overwhelmed should not characterize every season of your life, occasionally you will feel this way, and maybe this post will help when such seasons arise.

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