What to do When You're Overwhelmed by the World
By: Angie Merrill
The barrage of news stories and social issues we encounter every day can lead us on an emotional rollercoaster. Over time, this is not good for the soul. A famous comedian soberly recounted being in school 35 years ago when his class gathered around a television to watch the launch of the Challenger space shuttle. To their—and the rest of the world’s—shock, the space shuttle exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven astronauts on board. The comedian shared that his teacher turned off the TV, and everyone was sent home. Then he made a profound statement. He said that, in our modern times—due to how fast news travels and the prolific number of tragic stories—it is as though we’re watching the Challenger explosion every single day, if not multiple times a day. In a rare and somber moment for a standup comedian’s set, we were invited to consider the effect that this “new normal” has on us.
Our generation has become fatigued and even desensitized. Whenever I become overwhelmed by what’s going on in the world, it is very tempting for me to want to bury my head in the sand. Since my degree is in journalism, it used to bother me when people didn’t know what was going on in the news. But now I totally understand statements like, “I don’t pay attention to the news; it’s too depressing.”
This past year, I have been especially saddened, outraged, contemplative, and disturbed. I vacillate between wanting to put on a cape and a mask and dedicate my entire life to eradicating injustice in the world, to feeling completely overwhelmed because I am but one person—a wife and a mom with three kids, a normal job, and everyday responsibilities. It seems that I am too small and the problems are too big. But when I remember to take my eyes off the bleakness and back onto Jesus, I find peace. I’d like to share three things that I am learning with you:
1. Find balance – We can’t spend our lives ignoring what’s happening in the world, but we can’t dedicate an unreasonable amount of time to negative news stories either. There is good and evil in the world. To focus solely on the good and ignore the evil, makes us no better than the city of Sodom, whom the Bible says was guilty of being “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49).
We can’t pretend that life is sunshine and rainbows when there is real suffering and injustice all around us, but on the flipside, let’s not become discouraged. There are still people who will help an elderly neighbor or feed a homeless person, knowing they will get nothing in return. There are vigilant people fighting against human trafficking and working to restore victims. There are sweet saints who are rescuing children from abuse, neglect, and poverty. People still love. People still care. People are speaking up for those who don’t have a voice. Rejoice and be encouraged that the world is still filled with people like this. Beautiful stories and miracles are unfolding all around us!
2. Don’t dwell—do something – Bad news grieves my heart, and I have a tendency to dwell a little too long on what I’ve seen, heard, or read. While we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15), I don’t think God wants us to stay in that place of sorrow. A depressed state can be quite debilitating, rendering us ineffective to make a positive change in the world.
Lately, I am trying not to dwell too long on an emotion. I have found it helpful—both for my sanity and for the cause for which I’m passionate—to channel that mental energy into action, whether it be to pray, serve, sign a petition, spread awareness on social media, vote, call my senators and my representatives in Congress and ask them to act. It’s good to feel empathy about a particular situation; it’s far better to try to do something about it. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
3. Harvest hope – In the novel-turned-movie, The Hunger Games, someone asks bad guy President Snow why he chooses a winner of the battle royal—instead of just executing all 24 players to intimidate the districts from whence they came. President Snow answers, “Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it's contained.” Hope is powerful, and it’s contagious. In the midst of all the scary things that are happening in the world, it’s easy to become fearful. But instead, God calls us to have hope. To have a confident expectation that something good is going to happen—and ultimately, that Jesus Christ is coming back to make all things new. He will wipe away every tear, heal every disease, and take away pain and death (Revelation 21:4). In these troubling times, I have been reminded again and again of Jesus’ words in John 16:33, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
Thank God that despite all the craziness in the world today, we can have peace because our God is still good, just, and sovereign. Even when we are feeling overwhelmed, we can have hope because Christ has overcome the world.
Angie Merrill is a wife, a mom of three, and a writer who loves Jesus. She has been on staff at Shepherd Church for the last 15 years with the honor of assisting Pastor Dudley Rutherford with writing projects.