Have you ever felt overwhelmed, defeated, or exhausted? Has it ever seemed that in spite of how hard you work, how often you “put yourself out there”, or how much you love, it just isn’t enough? Have you ever been on the brink of hopelessness? Have you ever believed that if you take one more step the wrong way, you could “walk off the edge?” Has it ever seemed like you have the weight of the world on shoulders?
The definition of overwhelmed is: “to be completely, either physically or emotionally, overpowered.”
I’ve felt that way.
There are some expressions I’ve heard over the years, when I’ve been overwhelmed, that I’ve never really been able to “buy into”. They’re said, I imagine, with the best of intentions but for me at least, often seem to make things worse instead of better. I want to talk about a few of those today.
One that I’ve really struggled with is “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Since I’ve heard that so often, I assumed that it must have some religious, probably even biblical, backing. It turns out that it’s a spiritual “urban legend”. Despite how many people say it, those exact words aren’t even in The Bible. People who know the Bible “inside out” say the closest thing is from 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No testing or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down…will always be there to help you come through it.” (The Message, Peterson) From my research, it seems that Paul, the author of Corinthians, is saying that God won’t let us be tempted beyond our ability to get out of a situation that’s contrary to our personal moral code. It’s not about not being able to handle what God “gives us”. Whew, that takes some pressure off, doesn’t it? When we’re struggling and someone throws a “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” at us it’s easy to think “wow, I’m just not doing a good enough job, after all God wouldn’t give me more than I can handle.” I think there are plenty of times when, in our humanness, we DO have more than we can handle.
Another one I’ve heard repeatedly (often from well-meaning friends) is “you’re such a strong person”, or “you’ve been through SO much, you can get through anything.” When I’ve been told that I’ve thought, “I’m NOT that strong, I’m just stubborn”, or “I’m afraid to fall apart completely”, or “I’m too concerned about someone I love to NOT get through it somehow.” When someone keeps telling you how “strong” you are and you don’t see yourself that way at all (or are simply tired of being a pillar of strength) it often hurts more than it helps. It’s okay to not always be strong.
Then, there’s “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Hmmm….I think there are a lot of things that may not kill you physically but they don’t make you stronger either. If you’re coming home to a person who’s emotionally, psychologically or physical abusive I’m not sure that’s making you stronger. If you’re in a workplace where you’re minimized, marginalized or disrespected, being there could make you stronger or it could simply make you more beaten-down. In both of those situations I think, “the grass is greener” almost ANYWHERE else. Sure, we learn something from our experiences, but whether we come out stronger depends on a LOT of things.
Step Aside, and Set Aside
When you’re overwhelmed and life is exhausting you need the ability to “step aside” for a bit. There are also some things we just have to “set aside” for a while. “Stepping Aside” and “Setting Aside” aren’t the same as failing or giving up. There are simply times we need space to think and a chance to “regroup.”
Acknowledge what’s “killing you”, not physically, but what’s slowly chipping away at your spirit and your psyche. Do the work of figuring out how to change that. Get the help necessary to value yourself enough to not allow those things or people to take your personal power. Give yourself the time to discover who you are….who you really are outside of the roles you play. Build relationships with people you can reach out to for support, encouragement and love (without strings attached). Be truthful with yourself and recognize what you’re doing that’s self-sabotaging. If your home, the place that should be your respite from the world, isn’t peaceful, it’s definitely difficult to be serene. What can you change there? What’s overwhelming you? Is it a job or a situation or a relationship? Is it stuff or lack of stuff? Is it a health challenge or concern for someone you care about? Name it.
Now, where does “serene” come into the picture?
Quite opposite to the definition of overwhelmed is the definition of serene: “tranquil, utterly calm, unruffled, peaceful”.
I’ve felt that way too. Sadly, I’ve probably felt overwhelmed more often than serene, but I’m working on that. If we move more toward serenity, we just may mitigate some of the overwhelmed.
The “Serenity Prayer” has been associated with many writers. Some folks say it’s based on the views of Aristotle (300s BC). The difference between “things not up to us” (ta ouk eph’ hemin) and “things up to us” (ta eph’ hemin) is a core component of ancient Greek principles. The goal of the “good life” in this philosophy is the attainment of “serenity”.
Most often this invocation is attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr (1940s). The part of the prayer many of us are familiar with is:
God, grant me the SERENITY to accept the things I cannot change
COURAGE to change the things I can, and
WISDOM to know the difference
I wrote that down and framed it a long time ago. It’s hung in my bedroom for many years.
If I were handed a Menu For The Day and could choose between “overwhelmed” and “serene”obviously, I’d choose serene every time, so I need to be purposeful about that!
God, give me the peacefulness necessary to accept the parts of my life, like other people and external circumstances that (in spite of how I feel) I simply can’t change.
God, give me the strength to overcome my challenges and make changes where I can. Help me to remember that even though I can’t change other people, I CAN change the way I interact with them and allow them to impact my life. Help me to always remember that I CAN change the way I move in, and view, this world.
God, give me the discernment to know clearly when I can and when I can’t change something, and what I can do today (this day) to move toward serenity.