We all feel overwhelmed at times. Sometimes it is a result of taking on too much work or responsibility; other times it is caused by things we cannot control, like physical illness or emotional trauma. Sometimes we can feel overwhelmed when everything is normal and we don’t see any reason for feeling that way. Even things we enjoy can leave us feeling overwhelmed if there is too much to do. We face daily pressures from jobs or school, from friends and family, and from temptations to sin. These can pile up and seem completely unmanageable. Fortunately, the Bible speaks to us about feeling overwhelmed.
In the Gospels Jesus shows us a way to prevent stress and the feeling of being overwhelmed. He was the sinless Son of God, but He often went away by Himself to get away from large crowds—even from those that needed His help and healing (Mark 1:35). At times He retreated even from His disciples. Other times, He retreated with His disciples: “Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’” (Mark 6:31). It was not selfish of Jesus to get away from people and commune with God. It was wise of Him to seek time for His disciples to rest, as well. We can rightly assume it is okay for us to spend some time alone, too, if we are feeling overwhelmed by people and responsibilities. It is interesting to note that Jesus also enjoyed great inner peace because of His trust in God. Even in the midst of a storm, He could sleep (Matthew 8:23–24).
There was one occasion when Jesus described Himself as feeling overwhelmed. It was in Gethsemane just before His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. “He began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to [his disciples]. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’ Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed” (Mark 14:33–35). In considering the fact that we, too, can be overwhelmed by situations facing us, there are three things to note here: first, Jesus was completely honest about how He felt. Second, He solicited the help of friends. Third, He prayed. Jesus took His burden to His Father. What a good model for us.
God is the God of peace (Romans 15:33; 1 Corinthians 14:33). Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and something we can ask God for any time, having complete faith that He will answer our prayer. It is clearly God’s will to give us good things (Matthew 7:11), and we know that His Spirit and the gifts He brings are good (Luke 11:13). We are told to set our minds on the Spirit, because to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:6).
David also dealt with the feeling of being overwhelmed. In two of his psalms, he suggests a specific course of action: prayer followed by remembering the past goodness of God. “My spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed. I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. I spread out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land” (Psalm 143:4–6). And, “From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy” (Psalm 61:2–3, KJV). Praise the Lord for His ready ear and His constant faithfulness. There is a rock higher than we.
When we are feeling overwhelmed, it may also help to remove ourselves from the situation, if possible. We may need to decrease our workload, knowing that it is not sinful to let go of some responsibilities for a while. In any case, we continue to rely on God’s strength and pray for peace, knowing that He has promised to help us. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:1–2).