On Feeling Overwhelmed

Sitting at a table full of ladies one woman dared to pour her heart out.

It took courage and humility for her to share that she was past the point of feeling overwhelmed. Daily duties, demands of children, lack of wisdom, and lack of real rest had driven her to this point. Many of us sat there sympathizing and some of us reached over and offered reassurance as one lady said, “Any feelings of being overwhelmed is simply sin. You are lacking trust in God. Needing help with our children or duties is simply selfishness.” It felt like a hard slap to the face but she was so respected among these woman that I took what she said to heart. I felt that her advice must be correct because of her piety and without further ado we all straightened our shoulders and sucked it in to keep up appearances. After all, we didn’t want to appear faithless to our faith community.

That day had a profound effect on me.

It became a source of my own silent mental abuse. Anytime I found myself tired, frustrated, and overwhelmed instead of having the freedom to ask for help I reminded myself that if I said anything that everyone would doubt my trust in God. I suffered in silence after that and observed that reaching for help only resulted in condemnation. I’m sure many of the other ladies also came away with the same conclusion.

Three things you need to know about being overwhelmed…

The first thing I want to stress about this entire situation was how wrong it is to imply that feelings are sin. Feelings are not sin. As the Catechism teaches, “in themselves passions (feelings) are neither good nor evil. They are morally qualified only to the extent that they effectively engage reason and will.” In this case, the feeling of being overwhelmed  lead to the engagement of reason and will when this lady admitted she needed help. The outside response of our reason and will should have been a call to prayer and to acts of charity on this woman’s behalf in order to alleviate her present distress. Prayer and great nap without children in the house would have went  a long way.

ask for it

The second thing I want to stress is that even people who are striving to follow God can miss the mark and give very bad spiritual advice.  Advice they don’t even practice! It was years before I realized this. She hired house cleaners, went on vacations several times a year, and hired babysitters when she wanted to go on a retreat or religious studies. It was a case of do what I do instead of listen to what I say.  If you need help, find it! If you need a break, take it! Don’t make my same mistake. Make sure that you aren’t following ungodly wisdom! Ask God to show you the right way and be sure you are willing to pay attention to what He shows you.

The last thing I want to stress is when you feel overwhelmed that we have recourse to one who hears us. We can cry to Him for help because He is our towering rock of safety.  If you reach out to someone and you meet puritanical condemnation don’t be discouraged. There are others who will respond to your reach with love and understanding. After all, we are called to bear one another’s burdens.

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