When you feel overwhelmed

This post is part of a series exploring how busy people feel and what we can do with those feelings. To see the first post in the series, click here.

Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee

Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee by Rembrandt.

Overwhelmed. It can mean:

  • buried, covered, or drowned beneath a huge mass
  • defeated completely
  • so affected emotionally that it’s difficult for you to resist or know how to react
  • overpowered
  • overcome completely in mind or feeling
  • overcome by superior forces

If you feel any or all of these conditions,  you are not alone. Let’s walk through the story of a group of people who felt these exact same feelings….

One evening, Jesus and his disciples took a boat across the Sea of Galilee. The weather was evidently very good for boating, since there were other boats on the water. But suddenly, a storm broke out over the water. Before they knew it, the boat was nearly swamped by the waves!

Just like for the disciples, you too have unexpected events that overwhelm you. It could be a sickness, a job change, or even a phone call. Yet for some of you, you feel overwhelmed because of a constant circumstance in your life. Maybe you’re an at-home parent caring for multiple young children, and you can’t imagine ever getting a minute for yourself and you can’t see  when this would ever end. Maybe your mountain of work just keeps getting bigger and bigger, and no matter how much you work you can’t seem to make any headway. Maybe you’re in a relationship that just keeps deteriorating, and the toxicity and the pain just cloud out all the joy in your life. Or maybe you’re dealing with your own internal issues – anxiety, depression, feelings of worthlessness – and you can’t imagine it being any other way. Whatever your situation is, your feelings of being overwhelmed are very real to you. Let’s see how the disciples reacted.

As they’re dealing with the storm, they  realize is that Jesus was sleeping in the back of the boat. So they wake him and say to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

I want you to hear the different emotions in their voices. Several of these men were professional fisherman who fished on this very sea for a living. Surely they must have encountered storms before. And here they are, worried that they’ll drown. At the point of their highest skill, their highest competency, they are completely and utterly overwhelmed.

How do you see yourself in this? For some of you, feeling overwhelmed at your point of greatest strength is your current state in life. Maybe you’re in your dream job, the one you trained years to get, and now you feel totally lost and unsure how to move forward. Maybe you were a teacher for a living, and now you can’t even get your kids to sit down for a meal.

And it’s even worse for the disciples. They find Jesus asleep. Jesus, their great Teacher, is oblivious to what’s going on. Out of desperation, they wake him and plead, “Don’t you care if we drown?” Perhaps somewhere in the back of their minds, they feared Jesus’ answer would be, “No, I don’t care.” Why else wouldn’t he be doing something to help them?

How do you find yourself being like the disciples? In the midst of your overwhelming situation, how are you tempted to believe that Jesus has no clue what’s going on? Or worse, in what ways do you believe that he doesn’t care whether or not you drown in  your situation?

Friends, that’s about as bad as it gets. Feeling overwhelmed, thinking you’re going to lose yourself or die in this situation, and believing that Jesus doesn’t even care.

Now here’s the astonishing part. With just a few words, Jesus transformed the entire storm into utter calm.

But here’s the catch for the disciples. Jesus turns to them and says, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Unfortunately, they don’t. Their fear shows that they didn’t have confidence in Jesus to act in this situation. They’re now terrified because they couldn’t fathom a Jesus that could command the wind and the waves.

So how about for you? Now that you’ve seen Jesus totally transform a situation that overwhelmed even the most experienced disciples, what do you think he can do in your overwhelming situation? Some of you saw Jesus calm the storm and said, “Yeah, but that won’t happen in my life.” Some of you resign yourselves to drowning. Some of you don’t hope or trust that Jesus will come through. And some of you looked into that story and found a new hope, a new possibility for your life. Some of you saw that if Jesus could save his disciples then, he can save you now. Some of you saw that no matter how overwhelming your situation, Jesus has full command of it, even if you think he’s asleep at the wheel and even if you’re feeling pressed more than you think is reasonable. Whatever your response is, tell it to Jesus, and have a real, honest conversation with him about what you really think about his power to save you.

Lord Jesus, may you give each person who reads this the insight to know that you have authority over all things. That you establish the boundaries for order and chaos, and that you are able to calm any storm. May each one know that you care about his or her life. That you hold each life in your hands, even as he or she thinks that identity, joy, hope, and even life itself is being overwhelmed in this situation. Please be gentle with each one, bearing patiently with any lack of trust in you and leading each one into a fuller understanding of who you are and the power you possess. Amen.

Question: What is overwhelming you right now? How much do you trust Jesus’ power to save you in the midst of it?

Leave a comment to continue our conversation.

(In case you’re wondering, this story comes from Mark 4:35-41.)

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