My conversations with friends these days tend to revolve around some pretty similar themes.
We all have too much to do and too much to worry about with a pandemic, the coming election, school being disrupted, and work being disrupted. Many of us are keeping our kids at home for school, and that adds a significant layer of exhaustion for everything.
Just as we feel this strain and burden with so much to do and to worry about, we have so many restrictions on our gatherings with friends, families, and groups, especially churches. Our support networks are suddenly limited and uncertain.
The isolation, the converging challenges of work and childcare at home, and the many external uncertainties feel like too much right now. In this moment of feeling overwhelmed, I’m reminded of Paul saying that despite his overwhelming circumstances, he could do all things through Christ who strengthens him.
“…I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me“ (Philippians 4:12-14, NRSV).
Given the scale of these challenges right now, it feels a bit cheap to say to someone, “I know this feels like a lot, but have you considered Jesus?”
What exactly is possible in Christ when there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything? Paul would read a lot easier if he said, “I can do the two most important things each day through Christ who strengthens me.”
Let’s be honest here, too: Jesus and Paul faced two enormous, impossible circumstances. The Romans and the Jewish religious establishment were as impossible as it gets, influential, and full of resources.
What exactly could Jesus and Paul “do” in the face of such powerful entities and impossible circumstances? Perhaps to the eyes of some, it appears Paul and Jesus hardly accomplished anything at all.
They were both opposed by the religious establishment, suffered enormous losses, and were executed by Rome. Those are hardly ringing endorsements!
I have had my moments of sadness and despair, exhaustion and worry. I need more breaks and moments of silence just to make it through a typical day filled with work, homeschooling the older kids, caring for a two-year-old, and trying to carve a bit of space for silence, prayer, and personal sanity.
What does it look like to do all things through Christ who strengthens us?
What does it even look like to do one or two important things each day through Christ who strengthens us?
Keep in mind that in the verses surrounding the passage quoted above, Paul wrote about real distress. He had suffered and gone through times of want and real hardship.
The mystery I find here is the life of Christ at work in us. This key to contentment and peace is also rather counterintuitive. In Christ, we are living from a source that seems at once apart from us, but in reality very much a spiritual presence in us.
How do we surrender to the power of God in us and still maintain a sense of drive and mission each day?
Perhaps the first step is that genuine feeling of being overwhelmed and struggling to make sense of a situation that feels impossible. That moment of great need and struggle is our opportunity, as unwelcome as it may feel at the time, to rely on God’s presence in us.
I suppose it would be ideal to arrive at this point BEFORE we feel overwhelmed by situations that feel impossible. Yet, urgency can be a great motivator.
In my journey through the worst seasons of anxiety, those moments of feeling overwhelmed often served as a prompt to pray. I didn’t want to feel so anxious, but I soon found that they could be turned into a useful step toward faith and mental health.
The crush of the many impossibilities today is hardly welcome. We face a lot of uncertainty, and some of us will still endure a lot of suffering. Too many lives are being lost, and too many families are grieving. Grief and sorrow are appropriate responses to our current reality.
Yet, this is also the moment when we can take another step in faith toward the mystery of the life of Christ in us.
What could it look like to turn toward God’s presence in us when life feels like a weight we can no longer carry?
Finding a place of contentment and peace may feel like a heavy lift right now. But faith doesn’t tend to grow through leaps and bounds.
Faith grows at the pace of a tiny seed taking root in the ground, sprouting under the pounding rain, and imperceptibly growing under the blazing sun. Even the unseen nature of the process itself can feel impossible.
I wouldn’t kid myself that we can do ALL things right now, but we can begin to learn what it looks like to lean more and more on the presence of Christ. This is God’s present gift for us even when it feels like so much else has been taken away.