By Michael Kelley
The city pool was a refuge in the summertime when I was growing up. Kids from all over the community would converge there for hours, largely unsupervised, to find some relief from the hot West Texas sun. We would play games, go off the diving board, eat melted M&Ms, and never put on sunscreen.
I remember one particular time we were involved in a particularly heated game of Marco Polo, and I ventured beyond the rope that marked the slope into the deep end to escape the person who was “it.” The water was over my head, and so I would go under, then push myself up with my feet, grab some air, and then go under again. Until one time I couldn’t come back up.
See, it was a mass of humanity in those waters. Kids were shoulder to shoulder. And I got caught in the tangle of arms and legs and couldn’t find the surface until finally I was able to grab the shoulders of some unsuspecting teenager and pull myself to the top, grasping for air.
Sometimes I think about that – of feeling like I had the situation under control, just bobbing my way through the traffic. And then suddenly to realize that I couldn’t breathe because of everyone crowding in on me. I think about that because there are days that still feel like that – when I feel overwhelmed. Maybe you know what that feels like, too.
To feel overwhelmed by the pressures of work. To feel overwhelmed by what’s happening in your family or in your relationships. To have so many people, so many responsibilities, so many troubles, so much stuff pressing in around you that you feel trapped, intertwined with all these arms and legs of circumstance. Feeling overwhelmed like that can leave you breathless, struggling for the oxygen of life.
More often than not when I feel like that, there is going to be some tiny little thing that sends me over the edge. I’m trying to juggle everything else that’s happening around me, and then one of my kids will do something, or say something, or spill something, and I’ll fly off the handle. It’s not because what they’ve done is particularly heinous in some way; it’s because it was the final straw that sent all the other plates spinning in life crashing down, and that kid just happened to be the easy target that gets the brunt of all the frustration.
There is a better way. For the gospel has some things to say to us when we are feeling overwhelmed. Surely more than these things, but the gospel says at least these three things:
1. Peace to you.
This is exactly what Jesus said to His disciples when they were feeling overwhelmed. They had seen the crucifixion. They had heard rumors of the resurrection. And they had no idea what was coming next. The only thing they knew was that they were frightened. And that’s when Jesus stood in their midst and delivered this simple message: “Peace to you” (John 20:19).
This is a good word for us when we feel overwhelmed, because when you feel that way you feel anything but peace. You feel torn; ripped apart by competing priorities and responsibilities. And yet in the midst of it, the gospel reminds us that we have true peace because no matter what else happens, we are right with God through Christ. Because we are, there is nothing left to prove. It doesn’t make the responsibilities and the tasks go away, but it does remind us that we can live in a state of peace because Jesus has finished His work.
2. God is working in you.
When you feel overwhelmed, it might seem impossible to reflect on anything except all the things that have to be done in a given moment. And yet the gospel forces us to a deeper level of realization. The gospel reminds us that through all these circumstances that are cluttering our hearts, that God is at work in us to make us more like Jesus.
In other words, the gospel pushes us to remember that these things are not just tasks to be done – they are tools in the hands of our Father who is more concerned about who we’re becoming than what we are doing. And He is committed to completing His work in us. So when we feel overwhelmed, the gospel reminds us that ultimately, these things are for our good so that we might grow in our perseverance, holiness, patience, and all other qualities that come together in our spiritual growth and discipleship.
3. Do the next right thing.
Finally, the gospel actually equips us to move through being overwhelmed. When we are reminded that we have peace with God, we can actually buckle down and do something about being overwhelmed. But because of the gospel, we don’t have to work at a frenetic pace, we can instead take a breath, and focus on the next right thing.
We don’t need to worry about the 14th next thing – instead, we can just focus on the next right thing in front of us. And that next right thing might be to have dinner with our family. It might be to plan a meeting at work. It might be to go to our kid’s baseball game. Or it might be to listen to a co-worker. Whatever it is, we can attack it with gusto because we are secure enough in Jesus to be able to set our priorities in a given moment.
Are you feeling like you can’t breathe today? Feeling like the circumstances are too much? Then pause, and remember that Jesus died for you. And your life is secure in Him. Because that’s true, you can live in peace in the midst of the turmoil. You can embrace the work God is doing in you to make you more like Jesus. And then you can get busy on the next right thing for His glory.
Michael Kelley is the Director of Groups Ministry at LifeWay and author of Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life