Feelings can become too much for anyone.
This post was supposed to be done a month ago. It was actually finished and ready to share two days after Part 1 but then life happened and I felt like a hypocrite. I had all this great stuff written about how we should handle emotional overload in light of our Christian faith but I couldn’t bring myself to click “publish” due to the realization that I wasn’t actually doing it myself.
Regardless of if you are in ministry or not, everyone can hit that point where they are emotionally overwhelmed. That “full” line on our inner emotion tank is closer than we realize and if one is not careful it can spill over – like it did for me. It can spill over and affect other areas of our lives and the lives of others if we are not mindful.
Examining our habits can be uncomfortable because we tend to realize in those moments of clarity that we don’t actually have it all together like we thought! I shared in Part 1 how a few Christian leaders in my life have handled their emotional overload but now it’s time to bring it full circle – how do I handle my emotional overflow? How do you?
Want to make yourself squirm? Ask yourself what you do when you’re overwhelmed:
- Do I rant on social media?
- Do I gossip to a good friend?
- Do I take the edge off with a little too much alcohol ?
- Do I ignore the issues and hope they go away?
- Do I dump it on my family?
- Do I internalize it?
I’ve always struggled handling my feelings well.
Since high school, my go-to method for handling emotion has been to hold all my negative feelings in so that those around me won’t see that I am struggling. My church, my friends, my parents, my siblings, my wife…I tend to forget that they love me so I bottle up my stress. I don’t want any perceived weakness won’t be seen so I try to hide it deep down inside. But then I crack. These cracks are always accompanied by tears and have a habit of happening at inopportune times. The phrase “the straw that broke the camel’s back” comes to mind.
It used to be that I could be out with friends every night for weeks on end and not feel exhausted. I now (happily) enjoy the quiet and solitude more often than not. Starting in college, I decided to regularly take time away from people – mainly that meant unplugging from Facebook, Myspace, Xanga, and other social media since that was were I spent the majority of my time. This habit eventually expanded to include “real life” as well as the internet so that those weekends were I am virtually missing are not accidental but entirely on purpose.
Side Note: the need to disconnect is one of the main reasons I stopped using Facebook so much. Facebook, for all the benefits it has, is like an emotional firehose for someone like me who can’t help but empathize with everyone. I couldn’t handle being blasted every hour of every day with other people’s emotion filled rants – especially on my weekends when I was trying to unplug.
Here’s the hypocritical side of it all and the reason why it took so long to get this post rewritten: I know emotional overload happens but I still have a habit of holding it all in. I know what my triggers are, I know how to better handle the weight, and yet I still have do the same things I did when I was in high school. And I am so good at handling my emotions poorly that I blew up at my brother last month for the tiniest thing. It was just one slight too many on top of the dozens I had mentally been keeping a list of and I cracked. Truth is, I am far from perfect and am still learning how to manage my emotions and internal pain. I do a better job now of talking things out to my wife but I still have the nasty habit of ignoring the constant build up of stress that accompanies life in the hope that it will resolve itself.
Emotional Overload “WWJD” Style
Unplugging from social media and talking things out with someone you trust are both great options to manage emotion. As Christians though, we ought to look to scripture as our guide to how to live our lives – this goes for pastors like myself as well!
Did you know that Jesus had the habit of unplugging from people? We think of him as always in the midst of big crowds but that is only one side of it. We can read of multiple times in scripture where Jesus would go off by himself to get away from the crowds and even his best friends!
“…great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”
And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed
And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.
Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
Jesus knew the importance of taking care of himself spiritually which is why he would regularly take time to connect with God the Father in prayer. He was constantly surrounded by people and, because he was fully God but also fully man, he experienced the same types of emotions that you and I wrestle with. And he got worn out by those emotions just like us too! We even read in Matthew 26 that on the night he was arrested he cried out to God to take away the task that was before him because he was afraid! If our Savior reached the point where things were too much for him to handle alone, shouldn’t we take that as an example for what to do when we get overloaded? We never read that Jesus went off by himself to binge on Netflix (being facetious here obviously) – he used his relationship with the Father as his source of relief when emotional overload hit.
Think back to that list of how you handle stress you made earlier – did it include prayer?
In the first part of this series I mentioned three Godly men that I have enormous respect for and I shared how they handle emotional overload. I know for a fact that these men make use of the gift of Prayer so I won’t dare make the sweeping statement that what they do in addition is “bad”. But is it necessarily “good”? I honestly don’t know – is my habit of shutting myself off from the world and playing video games or building with Legos “good”? The effectiveness of whatever other methods we all use is personal so that is not for me to measure.
What I can say is that prayer is not a magical turn-of-phrase to fix everything; I detest when prayer is treated as a flippant “cure” like aspirin. At the end of this post please do not think “If I pray, everything will be fixed just how I want it to be!” because that is not what prayer is! Prayer is communication with the Lord Almighty, not some magical phrase to say that will cleanse you of all the dirt that you pick up on a daily basis. Because our Father in heaven loves us and because Jesus made a way for us to come before the Throne when he went to the cross, God listens when we talk with him through prayer. Prayer should be used as the starting point when faced with overwhelming emotion, not a last resort.
I need to consistently remind myself that retreating into scripture and talking to my Maker should take precedence over Netflix, video games, or other projects. As much as I enjoy playing a few rounds of Rocket League, re-watching a favorite film, or reveling in the knowledge that I no longer need to check Facebook every 5 minutes, nothing compares to handing over all that baggage to God and once again realizing that I don’t have to carry it on my own.
Jesus’ example is an encouragement to me because I so do not have it all together (as I realized yet again last month). Time and time again I fail to take advantage of the freedom I have to go to the creator of the universe with my tiny problems. Time and time again I fail to remember that He actually cares about those problems because I am precious to Him.
I hope you will be encouraged as you strive to handle your emotions in a healthy way. Emotional struggle is not sin – it’s simply part of this beautiful life. Everyone, from Jesus to “professional christians” to that brand new believer that just got their own copy of the Bible, has the ability to share their struggles with God through prayer. Make use of that tool first before any of your other chosen methods!