Moving From Overwhelmed to Serene

Have you ever felt overwhelmed, defeated or exhausted because, in spite of how hard you love, work or “put yourself out there” it doesn’t seem to be enough?

Have you ever stood at the door of hopelessness, believing that if you take one more step you could “walk off the edge?”

I’ve felt that way. And, there are things I’ve heard (I’m sure with the best intentions) that often made me feel worse, not better:

“You’re such a strong person; you can get through anything.”
I’ve been told this repeatedly and have wanted to yell, “I’m not that strong. I’m just stubborn” (or worried about someone I love who needs me, or afraid to fall apart). When you’re told how “strong” you are, but you don’t feel 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. Really.

“God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”
I’d heard this so often, I assumed it had biblical endorsement. But, scholars say the closest thing is in Corinthians: “No testing or temptation…is beyond the course of what others had to face…God will never let you down”, and believe that Paul* is saying, “God won’t let us be tempted beyond our ability to get out of a situation contrary to our personal moral code,” not “humans can always handle what God gives us”. When someone throws a “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” at you, it’s easy to think “I’m clearly deficient.” But, I believe there are plenty of times when we do have more than we can handle, and I don’t necessarily believe it’s God hurling it at us.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
There are a lot of things that may not kill you physically, but they don’t make you stronger either! If you’re living with someone who’s emotionally or physically abusive; if you’re working where you’re minimized or disrespected; if you’ve lost the person you love most, you might become stronger, but you could simply become beaten-down. Sure, we learn something from those experiences, but whether we come out stronger isn’t a given.

So, how do we move from overwhelmed to serene?

First, Set Aside, Step Aside
When you’re overwhelmed and life is exhausting there are things you need to “set aside” while you “step aside”. Setting or stepping aside isn’t the same as failing or giving up. It’s a way to create the space needed to think and “regroup.”

Next, Move Forward
Evaluate what’s “killing you”, not physically, but what’s slowly chipping away at your psyche.
Acknowledge the challenges—health concern, situation/relationship; stuff/lack of stuff—name it.
• Assess
what you can change and get help if necessary.
Learn to value yourself enough to not allow people to take your personal power.
Give yourself the time to discover who you are outside of the roles you play.
• Build relationships (without strings attached) that support and encourage you.
Practice truthfulness with yourself so you recognize when you’re self-sabotaging.

Then, Pray
For us mere mortals who haven’t gotten there (that’s me), this is my spin on “The Serenity Prayer”**:

God, give us the peacefulness to move forward realizing that there are people and external circumstances that we simply can’t alter.

God, give us the strength to overcome our challenges, understanding that we can’t transform others, but we can manage the way we allow them to impact our lives.

God, give us the knowledge to remember that we can reimagine the way we move in , and view, our world.

God, give us the discernment to recognize when we can, and can’t, change something and what we can do today to move toward serenity.


Please help spread the word of peace full home® and invite your friends to our peace-filled conversations.
Twitter: @kaymclane
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Paul is the author of Corinthians, and scripture the reading is from The Message, Peterson. I’m not a Biblical scholar so I’d love for you to weigh in if you have a different point of view.

**  The “Serenity Prayer” that many of us know is most often attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, but its foundation has been ascribed to Aristotle (300s BC). “Things not up to us” (ta ouk eph’ hemin) and “things up to us” (ta eph’ hemin) are a core component of ancient Greek principles!
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.



3 thoughts on “Moving From Overwhelmed to Serene

  1. Pingback: Finding Serenity Now | peace full home®—intentional living

  2. I agree with you completely, Betsy. There are times when, even with our best intentions, we say something that doesn’t help at all, and sometimes makes the person we’re trying to lift up, feel even more overwhelmed.

    It’s similar to what some (I’m sure well-intentioned) folks say to a person in grief: “it was his time”, “at least you have one child”, “God wanted her back”, etc.

    We, humans, have a lot to work on……including our self-awareness. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


  3. This is so insightful in many ways. Comments that you think are helpful are not always heard as they were intended. They can add to the recipient’s feelings of inadequacy. But if the recipient has developed their own awareness of “self”, they won’t allow these comments to settle in as truth which is hard to do when you’re already feeling like you’re in a hole. Great words, Kay.


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