Overcoming the Overwhelming
There is a lot wrong in this world. We are inundated with stories of bloodshed, terror, and injustice wherever we look. One glance at the news, social media and even our phone tells us we live in an unsafe place. Additionally, people shout, rant, and blast one another with opinions, criticisms and accusations. It's not only a dangerous world; it's a loud one.
It's caused me to realize the same thing about our culture that I learned early on in ministry: overwhelmed people want others to feel overwhelmed too. News outlets want you to be overwhelmed so you keep watching. But individuals will try to overwhelm you too--for far different reasons. People in pain sometimes want others to be in pain too; not out of a sadistic desire to cause harm, but out of the deep need to know they are not alone in their pain and a deep desire to be understood. It makes all kinds of sense, but it's not what hurting people really need to feel better. They need people around them who are decisively not overwhelmed.
Overwhelmed people are incredibly ineffective. They can't do much of anything because they are frozen by fear. They feel limited compassion because their "flight or fight" response is consuming their emotions. Overwhelmed people cannot reason well, their thoughts are slowed and their reactions falter. Overwhelmed people are passive; they are unable to stand up against evil or assist in the doing of good because they're saturated. Overwhelmed people might have a first-person sense of the pain surrounding them, but they are powerless to do anything about it. Would you want your doctor to be as freaked out as you are in the face of a medical emergency? Me neither. As crude as it might sound, this world needs people detached enough to be able to act.
Tragic events should stir our compassion and cause us to respond. It should galvanize us and make us fight against all that threatens the beautiful, good, and right. But saturating our minds, hearts, and surroundings with the horrific things of this world is a terrible way to ensure a better one.
Romans 12:21 says, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." We can only do that if we are not overwhelmed in our own hearts. There is an important amount of distance that is healthy and productive if you are going to be effective against evil. I am not advocating indifference. Our hearts need to break for the things that break God's heart; but our hearts don't need to be shattered. There are enough people in the wake of deep tragedy holding a few remaining shards of their hearts; they need you to be whole enough to help them find the missing pieces.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by what you see and read, it's time to turn off the television, shut down your computer, and go for a walk. It's time for coffee with friends. It's time for prayer, reflection, and enough emotional distance to see what needs to be done. It doesn't make you heartless. Rather, it creates a place for your heart to be soft enough to love and strong enough to stand up against overwhelming circumstances.
From there, take your non-overwhelmed heart and overcome evil with good. Does the Red Cross need blood donations? Roll up your sleeve. Does a local organization need supplies? Head to the store. Does a hurting friend need a visit? Make the time.
If the news, social media, or hurting people try to overwhelm you with information, terrible stories, angry reactions or horrific images, trust that the most loving thing you can do is to keep your heart from becoming overwhelmed. You do not need to respond with strong words, debilitating emotion, or social media rants. You might not be a source of shared hysteria, but you will offer something even better; a solid place to grieve, cry, and question.
This is indeed a dangerous, loud world. But it's filled with many more good people doing amazing things than bad ones doing evil things. When you refuse to be overwhelmed, you overwhelm tragedy with good and you remind every one of us that, in the end, evil cannot win.
Melissa Maimone is a Christian speaker and author of the book "Gathering Dandelions: Meditations and Musings on Faith, Fracture, and Beauty Mistaken for a Weed". She resides in Southern California with her husband and children. To subscribe to Melissa's monthly Sparrow Sisters Journal, click HERE.