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I just feel overwhelmed,” I said to my wife, trying to explain the weight I felt pressing on me during the first couple of weeks at work for the year.
Part of it was reminiscent of the first week of a university semester, when all the lecturers would outline the breadth of reading and the number of assignments to be completed over the few short months following. And perhaps that feeling was somewhat justified as another busy year stretched ahead.
But there was more to my overwhelmed-ness than that. And 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 messages, theories, hopes, fears and products to sell to us 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 of clamour, threatening 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, to be exposed to a broad cross-section of thought, 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 in our lives, energy and attention. He knows what it is to be human—tired, tempted, sad and afraid (see Hebrews 4:15).
“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. And as I thought back over the events of the day, a slow realisation came over me. I remembered a letter I had received that day. I had read it quickly and only as I thought back many hours later did its significance connect with me.
Not having a copy of the letter with me, I was anxious to check the letter first thing the next morning. I was hit 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 . . .” The letter had been written on the day I was feeling most overwhelmed.
I was again reminded of Manning’s imagination of Jesus gently saying “I understand.” And I was again overwhelmed—but this time by the greatness, goodness, love and understanding of God.
In Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear, Scott Bader-Saye quotes Irish theologian David Ford in arguing that our lives are shaped by “overwhelmings,” both positive and negative:
“Our overwhelming fears need, themselves, to be overwhelmed by bigger and better things, by a sense of adventure and fullness of life that comes from locating our fears and vulnerabilities within a larger story that is ultimately hopeful.”
That larger story is the story—and stories—of Jesus, the reality of the kingdom of God and the hope He offers us. Perhaps we should allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by these realities and the evidences of that Goodness we can see and experience in the world around us, if we take the time to notice.

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