Overwhelmed: The Battle to Control an out of Control Life
The Monster Awakened.
As a writer, the scariest thing that can happen to me is to run out of words. The second scariest thing is to have too many words, all competing for my attention. That is where I am at this moment. There are so many things to address, so many issues, concerns, ideas, fears, excitements, and problems to solve. Where do I start? How do I stay focused? What message needs to be heard first? All these questions and thoughts have put me at a standstill over the last couple of weeks. Don’t get me wrong: I have done a ton of writing, but very little of it is publishable, at least by my standards. I have page after page of what could very well be the ramblings of a madman. Yes, that is me and it’s true, I think I may have fallen off the deep end. My mind, normally concise and well-organized, is cluttered and in disarray.
So what brought me to this point? What broke inside of me to turn my thoughts into an incoherent cacophony of words and ideas all jumbled and mixed together? To answer that question, I have to go back a few weeks, and here is where this article hopefully becomes relevant to you. You see, my issue is not really about writing. It is bigger than that. It is caused by something that most every one of us faces on a daily basis. Normally, we can fight it off and hold it back, but if our defenses are weakened even a little, the consequences of this issue rush in and overtake us quicker than we can react.
So what is this nightmarish monster that lurks in the shadows, ready to pounce the moment our guard is down? Overwhelmed. That is the name that we have given to the monster. We all sense it constantly trying to sneak up on us. It haunts our todo lists, possesses our hopes and dreams, and threatens to destroy our sanity, while playing puppet master with our daily schedules. At what point do we go mad? How much can a human mind take? Is there anything we can do to destroy this monster? Unfortunately, like Frankenstein, it is a monster that we created. We gave it life, nourished it, and watched it grow. We thought we could control our creation, but we were wrong. It become too strong, too powerful, and too honed into our every move for us to control. Because we created it, it is a part of us. It knows us better than we know ourselves. Confined in its dark dungeon, by our reliance on our own self control, we are confident that we can handle the monster. We see it as nothing more than an occasional annoyance. But, what we don’t understand is that it feeds off of our confidence. Each time we think that we can take on more pressure, more stress, more duties, and more commitments, the monster gets stronger. Until it is too late.
Eventually, we run out of strength and the monster breaks free. There it is: its beady red eyes stare us down, mouth open and salivating,it wants more, but we have no more to give it. Angry, it charges at us, leaping into the air, talons outstretched, fangs showing – its force is too much for us to take. Tackled and on the ground, we find ourselves buried by the monster we created. That is the real danger of Overwhelmed. Once we can no longer feed it, its unquenchable hunger turns against us. What we once thought was a tool to help us devour any task in our way, now has us in its grasp, and it won’t stop until we ourselves have been devoured.
Of course, when it is under our control we don’t call it “Overwhelmed”. We call it “Ambition,” “Duty,” or simply “Life.” Yes, that is the most common one. It is “life” that all too often turns into the monster, “Overwhelmed.” Without realizing it, we let life get out of control. At first, it still seems OK. We can handle it. After all, it is our life. Sure, we’re too busy, pulled in too many directions, and ready for a break, but hey, that’s just life, right? We push through and hope for the best, never fully understanding the beast that we are creating. We ignore the warning signs. Perhaps no one taught us what to look for – it does not really matter. The outcome is always the same. Once life turns overwhelming, it’s too late. The damage is done. The monster has escaped and havoc is sure to follow.
So what awakens this beast that hides inside of us? There are many things that can make life turn overwhelming. Many times, it is pressures that we put on ourselves. Sometimes, it’s from things seemingly out of our control, and other times it sneaks up on us so fast that we can’t think of a cause. But, don’t worry: there is a way to fight it, to plunge a stake deep into the heart of the monster that wants to feed off of our overcommitted bodies. Better yet, there are even ways that we can go on the offensive and meet the monster in its own lair before it can attack.
Unfortunately for me, like many others, I was wise enough to see the monster coming, but I knew nothing of the offensive tactics. All I could do was try and fortify my defenses. Ironically, this only made the monster stronger. It allowed him to besiege my life, then all he had to do was wait for my supplies to run out, while simultaneously launching small minor attacks designed to weaken my defenses and deplete my resources. With each battle, I thought I was winning, but it was all part of the scheme. Eventually, I found myself tired, weak, and run dry. Being besieged, I had no way to replenish myself. It was only a matter of time before the monster could scale my walls and all I could do was try and hide. With nothing left to fight with, I was left at his mercy and he had none.
Once the walls of my life had been breached, the monster ransacked and pillaged everything. Nothing was sacred to him. The temples dedicated to my accomplishments were burned to the ground. The monuments of my success were torn apart stone by stone. Then, without saying a word, the monster left, leaving me broken, injured, and alone in the rubble that had once been my pride. It is there that I still sit today, mending my wounds, and wondering how the life that I created could turn against me with such fury.
Now, as I try to rebuild, I understand that I first must examine what I did wrong. There were many things that happened outside of my control. I struggle with a multitude of mental and health issues brought on by TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) from an accident a few years ago. I may talk more about this in a later article, but for now that is not the point. The point is this: despite all the things I could blame and say were not my fault or were out of my control, the bottom line is that my pride refused to accept any limitations. Being overwhelmed did not sneak up on me. Instead, I kept it close (on purpose), seeing it as a badge of honor, as proof of my resilience and infallibility. I thought I could control it, even wield it for my own purpose. I let it enter me and accepted it as part of my life. It became my identity. Feeling overwhelmed, but pushing forward, was proof that I was strong, courageous, and unstoppable. In all honesty, I fed off of being overwhelmed just as much as it fed off of me. We were intertwined in a deadly symbiotic relationship. I was convinced that I was the parasite gaining strength from every hurdle and struggle that was thrown at me. It never occurred to me that it was the other way around. That the life was being drained from me, that my choices, commitments, and pride were actually eating me alive.
There is hope for those of us who are in the midst of similar struggles. Whether your struggles are brought on by physical limitations, are a result of trying to take on too much, be a people-pleaser, trying to force your way to the top, or simply thinking that being too busy is proof of yours and your family’s success, the solution is the same. Taking control is not about pushing through, always being strong, or even about being in control at all. The only way to beat the monster is to first and foremost understand that it’s OK to let go.
For those of us who have already have our faith in Jesus Christ, He reminds us in Matthew 6: 25-31 that we need not worry.
25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his or her life? 28 And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’” (NASB)
Most of us become overwhelmed because we are worried about what tomorrow will bring. We believe that our strength is sufficient enough to prepare us for tomorrow. We believe, even as followers of Christ, that it is up to us to bend life to our will. But there is a better way. Christ tells us that He knows what we need before we even ask (Matthew 6:8). Our job is not to try and manipulate our circumstances to our own will. But, instead, we should bask in the understanding that God, who gave us the gift of life, wants us to live to the fullest. John 10:10 reminds us that: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they (we) may have life and have it abundantly.” The thief is our foolish desires that give way to the belief that we can make it on our own. In truth, only God, through the saving grace of His Son Jesus Christ, can free us of the monster we created in our overwhelmed, high-stress lives.
If you have not accepted Christ, these verses may seem odd to you. That’s OK. Like me, you have been taught that success and the life we desire comes from within. That, as long as we believe in ourselves, we can accomplish anything we want. The deception of such thinking is that this is exactly what leads to breakdowns caused by being overwhelmed. It is the belief that we don’t need a Savior, or anyone else for that matter. That we can will our own success and become a self-made man or woman. That the proof our our life’s accomplishments are found in the number of promotions we receive, the square footage of our house, the trophies from our children’s success in sports, and the number of neighbors who are jealous of our accomplishments (or at least of our cars). These are many of the things that lead to being shut down, as we are overwhelmed by the severity of what society expects from us.
It does not matter where you are in your walk of faith – believe, don’t believe, or still searching for the truth. The same is true for you as it is for me. “ All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). If you don’t yet believe in Christ or the Bible, this verse may seem judgmental or at the very least unrelated to your struggles and feelings of being overwhelmed. So look at it another way. You’re feeling overwhelmed because no matter what you do, you’re falling short of the expectations that you have set for yourself or of what you believe society expects of you. The harder you try, the harder it is to succeed. That is what Romans 3:23 is addressing. The fact that no matter how strong we are, our best always seems to fall short of good enough.
I get it, I am right there with you. Even as a believer in Christ, I consistently focus on my own abilities to get me where I want to go. However, with every failure, disappointment, or letdown, I realize more and more every day the power behind the words of Romans 3:23. I serve a God who does not expect me to be perfect. No matter what demands I put on myself or believe that society has put on me, my God knows that I won’t ever be able to meet those expectations. And He is OK with that. I think that’s kind of awesome. John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, so that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have everlasting life.” In other words, the story of the Bible is that no matter how much we fail, God still cares for us, will provide for us, and accepts us despite all our failures.
As someone who is struggling to overcome the consequences of being overwhelmed to the point of breakdown, the verses that I have shared are a great comfort.They remind me that Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30). They remind me that at the end of my days, God’s judgment of me is much easier to accept than society’s view of my accomplishments or failures. Society will judge me by me riches, legacy, accomplishments, or failures. But God is ready for me with open arms, if I am simply ready to humble myself before Him and accept the saving grace of His Son’s sacrifice. I don’t have to prove myself to my God: I simply have to accept him. That is a big difference from what society asks of me.
Society will judge me based on what I can accomplish, but God will judge me based on what I believe He can accomplish. That is why I believe and encourage you to believe that God’s will for our lives is so much more perfect and easy to accomplish than the overwhelming monster that society asks us to worship.