Part of it was reminiscent of the first week of a university semester, when all the lecturers outline the breadth of reading and number of assignments to be completed over the following few short months. And perhaps that feeling was somewhat justified as another busy year stretched ahead.
But there was more to my overwhelmed-ness than that. I suspect it is something we all feel from time to time. There are so many ideas and voices that call for our attention. We are surrounded by so many people, organisations, groups, corporations, media, causes and faiths--all with their own messages, theories, hopes, fears and products to sell or otherwise urge upon us. That so many of these varied voices are inconsistent with each other only adds to the tension.
Often this burble of voices is merely background noise to our lives. But there are times when our own circumstances, or a conjunction of various voices demanding our particular consideration, raise a cacophony that threatens to drown our hope, peace and joy. And while we continue to trudge through our days, it seems our best energies and thoughts are swallowed by this sense of overwhelmed-ness.
Perhaps such a state of mind is an occupational risk for those who work directly and regularly with so many different ideas, stories, philosophies and beliefs. In a sense, we all do--but some of us are compelled by employment or disposition to wrestle with these more than others. We are exposed to a broad cross-section of thought and have to hold inconsistent ideas in tension at the same time as reporting, reflecting and communicating something of this to a similarly broad audience.
Amid my feelings of overwhelmed-ness, I was re-reading Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel and a question jumped out at me. "We need to ask ourselves," Manning writes, "Do I really believe the Good News of Jesus Christ? Do I hear His word spoken to my heart: `Shalom, be at peace, I understand'?" The words--I understand--echoed in my whirling mind.
Jesus understands our overwhelmed-ness, both in knowing the "answers" to our perplexities and, maybe more importantly, in simply knowing how it feels to be so overwhelmed. He understands what it is to be almost overcome by the many voices that stake their claims on our lives, energy and attention. He knows what it is to be human--tired, tempted, sad and afraid. "I understand"--with this reminder began a slow return to peace.
Late one evening about a week later, I was ironing a shirt to wear to work the next day. As I thought back over the events of the day, a realisation came over me. I remembered a letter I received that day and had read over quickly. It was only as I thought back over it many hours later that I realised its significance.
Not having the letter at home with me, I was anxious to check it first thing the next morning. I was struck by the description of my complaint of the previous week.
"I can imagine that even if you are sitting still, your mind is in overdrive," read the letter. "So many ideas that need to be weighed up/thought through . . ." This letter had been written on the day I was feeling most overwhelmed.
Again, I was reminded of Manning's imagining of Jesus gently saying "I understand." I was again overwhelmed--but this time it was by the greatness, goodness, love and understanding of God.
This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it. Hebrews 4:15, 16.
Nathan Brown is a writer and editor at Signs Publishing Company and lives in Warburton, Victoria.
This story is used with permission from Signs Publishing Company. More of these stories can be found in these collections: Ordinary People—Extraordinary God, Ordinary People—Faithful God, and Ordinary People—Generous God