I noticed her standing towards the back of the room, leaning against the wall. Once everyone cleared the auditorium, she walked up to talk with me.
“I feel completely numb,” she said. “I don’t want to be a mom or wife anymore. I could walk out on my family today and not feel anything. But it would devastate them, and I don’t want to do that.”
It felt like she was holding her breath, waiting to see what I would say now that she had spilled her guts. And then she exhaled these words: “I just don’t have anything left in me to give or to feel. I don’t know what to do.”
She had not told anyone — not family or friends. But she thought maybe I could tell her what to do since she had just heard me share my own rock-bottom-burnout story at a church’s women’s retreat. I had described how, ten years earlier, I’d come to a place where I wanted to quit just about everything — being a mom, being married, and being in ministry.
I tried to convince myself it was just a season, that things would eventually slow down, and I’d start enjoying life. But life wasn’t slowing down, and I wasn’t enjoying anything.
I’d heard sermons and read Scripture that promised “those who trust in the Lord will not grow weary” and that “whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” And I was frustrated God wasn’t coming through the way I thought He would or should. I questioned why Jesus promised “life to the full” when the only thing that was full in my life was my calendar packed with obligations, commitments, stress, and hurry.
Then one day, I read Jesus’ words in John 10:10 and noticed the warning He gave right before His promise of life to the full. Jesus said there is a thief who comes to kill, steal, and destroy us and the abundant life He came to give us.
Depleted and overwhelmed, my hope had been stolen. And my life was being destroyed by the disappointment and guilt of feeling like I was never doing enough, yet knowing I had nothing left to give.
As this young mom stood in front of me looking exhausted and depleted, I saw a younger version of myself in her, desperately wanting someone to help me get out of the overwhelmingly hard place I was in. It was a place created by my mixed-up understanding of Scripture and God’s heart, a place where I saw God more as a taskmaster I needed to please than a loving Shepherd I wanted to follow.
If you’re in a similar place as I was, I want to tell you what I told the woman who shared her brave and vulnerable confession with me that day: Being overwhelmed is okay for a season, but living in a constant state of overwhelm is not.
I told her the first step to ending an unhealthy cycle of overwhelm is surrender. Surrender happens when we acknowledge that we cannot do it all and accept that we don’t have to. Surrender looks like letting go of everything we think we ought to do and what we assume God expects of us to do and asking Jesus to show us what He wants us to do.
Some days, surrender looks like taking a nap. Other days, it looks like canceling an overwhelming commitment. Some days, surrender looks like having the courage to disappoint someone with a gracious no to their invitation or request. Other days it looks like saying yes to something that isn’t productive or purposeful but simply enjoyable.
Surrender comes when we get honest with ourselves and Jesus about our motives behind each commitment we have or obligation we assume. Is it something we sense God calling us to or is it something we feel pressured to do or praised by others when we do it?
Jesus wants to help you figure out what to let go of and what to say no to. He knows you want to be there for everyone, but He doesn’t expect or want you to be. He sees the whole day before you, and He wants to help you live it to the full.
In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote,
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)
Notice how Paul was on his knees praying for Christ to dwell within the Christians in Ephesus not so they could do more, preach more, or achieve more. He prayed Christ’s spirit would fill them more fully so they could understand and grasp the fullness of God’s love.
It’s been over twenty years since I hit my own rock-bottom state of burnout. But there are still times I find myself living in a state of overwhelm. Paul’s prayer reminds me that instead of running away from it all, I need to run to Jesus and ask Him to help me grasp the fullness of His unconditional love, grace and acceptance.
If you are living in a place of overwhelm and overload, I encourage you to take time to make a list of all that is on your mind and on your calendar. Then lay it all before Jesus, letting Him define your expectations and set intentional margins, so you have time to be with Him and the ones you love, doing what matters most to you and Him.Leave a Comment
Thank you so much! So timely; I am outlining my obligations and responsibilities to lay before Him.
Renee Swope says
I’m praying for you right now, asking Jesus to help you get it all out on paper and to give you peace as you lay it all before Him with open hands and a surrendered heart. And I’m praying you will be filled with His Spirit more and more so you can understand, grasp, LIVE IN and LIVE FROM the fullness of His love. Not for it. Not for others. But loved completely and adjusting daily to the rhythm of His grace for you.
Ruth Mills says
Thank you for this encouragement! My husband is in a season of overwhelmed & I need the tools to not be part of his overwhelmed but be his helper in surrendering his/our schedule to what is our calling. As he left for the office this am looking exhausted already I began reading this post. Love how God gives us what we need exactly when it’s needed even before we know we need it! Thank you for sharing!
Renee Swope says
Ruth, I am so glad God timed my post for you. I have been in that place too. Needing to adjust my commitments and my expectations so I can better support my hard-working and often exhausted husband. He is my ministry, too, but sometimes I forget he needs me — to encourage, listen, pray for and remove burdens I could take on to lighten his load. Just said a prayer for you and for your husband.
Sally Ferguson says
Covid created a new overwhelm for all of us. We need to extend grace to ourselves and each other as we lean on the Lord for peace.
Amen to this.
Renee Swope says
Amen, Sally, it sure has and is. You are so right, we all need to give each other and ourselves more grace and lean on Jesus for peace daily.
Wow! Just what I needed today!
Renee Swope says
I’m so glad Jesus spoke to your heart in such a tender and powerful way. Praying for you to rest in His grace and surrender your overwhelm to Him so He can start to replace it with His overwhelming love for you!
Having been in a such an overwhelming place, and from time to time continue to be in such a state, I have found learning to say no, admitting that I am not superwoman and cannot do it all, making lists and realizing what I don’t need to do, and of course, ask for help – from God and perhaps a friend- help get me centered again. Being outdoors and embracing nature is another way I cope. But I will admit sometimes closing the door, turning on the music and dancing can really clear the mind. There are so many expectations placed on us by others and by ourselves. And I find I take things to seriously at times that I forget to smile and have fun.
Renee Swope says
Madeline!! I agree with everything you said. It doesn’t come naturally, but all those steps make such a big difference don’t they? I have to really work at making time for more fun and I think it’s time for me to break out a little — turn on the music and have a solo dance party every once in a while. 🙂
Renee Swope says
And amen!! I’m praying this for each and every one of us!
Heather Wilson says
powerful, thank you!
Renee Swope says
You are so welcome. I needed to be reminded again this week to surrender it all, again and again.
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
Renne thank you for sharing your heart today. I used to think I was no good. Why do my family get all the attention. I don’t. I just say why have I not got more friends. As two I have two live 86 miles away from me now. I hardly ever see them because of the miles away that they live from me. I have one that lives 10 miles away from me. She is busy. But all three are still so good to me. They inquirie from time how I am doing. We still even if we don’t see either that often are there for either which is nice. The keep me in their prayers. So I got it into my head I was no good. Why me? Why do people not want to know me or be my friend why do I not have more friends. Then God spoke to me and said Dawn through my Salvation Army Offer. You are beautiful. That is the Old Devil speaking to you. He wants you to be believe you have no confidence. That is one reason everyone is I used to think they were better than me. That is what I thought. Why do my family get the attention. I am no good. My Salvation Army Offer prayed with me. Said Dawn it doesn’t matter you don’t have many friends or hardly ever see them. Or what any one thinks of you. Or your not popular. Only what Jesus thinks of you. As it had knocked my confidence so it had. That was the Old Devil put all theses things in my head. Then one day after prayer from my Salvation Army Offer. I got the song. “I Surrender all to Jesus. All to Jesus I Surrender”. You get it on YouTube. I went to Jesus and Surrender all my thoughts to him. Told the Old Devil were to go. I with prayer began to heal. I now feel so much better now. I more confidence about myself. I know it does not matter if people or my family get the attention. I don’t. All that matters is Jesus is there for me. Loving me for me. I am Daughter of the King of Kings. That King is Jesus. I say Amen to that. Thank you again for sharing your heart. Love you all incourage. In my prayers. Love Dawn Ferguson-Little xx
Renee Ball says
Thank you, Dawn, for sharing your heart. I am so glad that the Lord sent you to your Salvation Army Officer who gave you God’s words for you. You are precious to God, your Father!
Renee Swope says
Amen, Dawn! You are a Daughter of the King of Kings, precious and loved!!
Tam Hall says
Even at the age of 54, I experienced overwhelm yesterday. We have our two young grandsons 24/7 every other week. My youngest child is 19. After a week of no praying or bible study (who has time?) after they left it all came crashing down. Floors needed mopping, beds needed changing, toys organized….. Not to mention being exhausted. I didn’t want to cook (especially fish) so I threw a 2-year old temper tantrum. So my husband spent precious money on take out and I still wound up cooking the fish because it was defrosted. LOL. After settling down I prayed for forgiveness and asked for forgiveness from my husband and daughter. Instant feeling of warmth and love flowed over me. So when I read your devotion, I knew it was for me. Thank you.
Phyllis Howley says
This is such a beautiful reflection and witness on the power of faith and trust in God. In sharing your own testimony about burnout, I’m sure you helped more than just the woman who stayed to talk with you. There is such a need for this message to get out – especially to the women who are juggling being wives, mothers, in-home teachers, and valued employees. Sometimes it is just all too much. You blessed us by sharing your story, and may we be strengthened to share it with others, too.
Joan Moore says
Beautiful words and just what I needed to hear today!! Thank you!
Brenda M. Russell says
What Matters Most?
This is the best question ever. I know what I think I should say but then it defeats the purpose of learning to surrender to the person who can help you organize your thoughts.
I would really like to have someone assist me in the re-organization project of my ideas from day to day.
For starters, I seem to enjoy seeing others accomplish their goals and objectives. I don’t give a lot of extra thought to my own personal desires.
I think sometimes I want to go back to my college classes and really take time to truly understand my instructors and the subjects they taught. Every thing was rush, rush and hurry up. No one told me to prepare myself for deadlines, quizzes and midterms. No one told me the value of asking for a tutor on day “1” and not on day “21” (too late). There were so many unspoken and unwritten rules and guidelines. I did not know how to navigate my thoughts and my emotions. I just went through the actions as if everything was fine. It was not fine.
School is very important for learning and growing mature. But no one really has the same exact learning style. I learn better by example and verbal instructions. I really wake up when kindness is offered. I would really make a good Advisor today because I have been through 3 yrs of college on my 2 Yr Secretarial Studies Program. I am a very good Secretary and I even think my daughters are good at clerical work. They don’t enjoy it all the time like I did before I retired. We can all be so different. Now to learning how to surrender when you need help:
Admit that you are feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities.
Ask a trusted person to listen to your situation so you can get it out in the open.
Don’t feel shame or guilt.
Remember the best day of your life, in school, in the band, in Girl Scouts, or your First True Christmas with all the gifts you wanted. Now that is a wonderful time to reflect upon but grownup life is rarely like that. I know, no one told me about it either.
Since I believe in God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Ghost (The Invisible Person in the Spirit of God), I have to surrender to God in prayer. I don’t have a perfect formula, I usually say, “Lord, please help me.”
When you are a mother, you teach your children to ask you about anything. And even when you can’t do the New Math or know how to use a Graphing Calculator, you find someone to tutor your child. I think God has trusted Counselors who love Him and love to help others also with their emotions, conflict resolution and self care activities.
Once you become committed to being a healthier person, then be honest with yourself. It will not always be easy or feel good to peel back the layers of your personal story. Often you don’t even remember being in Grammar School and how you felt about school, your grades, your teachers and your family members. It may take a long process to unearth your true perspective, personality and your possibilities for your career. Please don’t ever give up on yourself or on your Creator.
My daughter taught me about processing thoughts, tasks and those unwanted “deadlines” and I am still learning about “processing” things in my emotions. I am in the middle of life, 62 years wise. Smile. I want my next generation (40 years) of learning to have less stress (even if I contribute to it”, less confusion, less debt, less worry, especially about changing other family members. It is so futile to think I can re-create another person’s perspective and character. Only God can help me have a different perspective in life.
I really enjoy hearing the voices of my children but I can’t pour into their hearts what God has helped me with so far. It’s not healthy or good for anyone to lie about your state of mental awareness. It does not help anyone at all. But timing is so pivotal, take advantage of the moments God allows you to find peace in your emotions. That’s wonderful and I pray for peaceful and healthy emotions for the women in my life.
Enjoy your day.
Nancy Ruegg says
You’ve given me an expanded understanding of surrender, Renee. For example, I never would have considered taking a nap as surrender! But of course it is–when we’re exhausted. That’s exactly what we need to do in order to stay sane. And your idea of making a list and laying it out for Jesus to define expectations and set margins is a very helpful suggestion. Thank you!
Aarti Sequeira says
I needed to read this today, Renee. Thank you.
Such a good word, Renee. Thank you for this: “Then lay it all before Jesus, letting Him define your expectations and set intentional margins, so you have time to be with Him and the ones you love, doing what matters most to you and Him.”
Michelle Stiffler says
I’m holding this close today, Renee. Thanks for reminding me I’m not alone in this season.
God really works in mysterious ways. I’m a nurse and had such a “great” nursing job. I was supposed to feel lucky and stay there until I retired. I had been working full time with two kids; one married w/ babies and a high schooler. Balancing my beautiful kid’s lives, working, marriage, friends, aging parents, and more was getting to be too much. I felt my work was sucking the life out of me. I had a 3 day weekend but Monday through Thursday I worked 9-10 hour days, finished with dinner around 8:00, made lunches for my daughter/myself, then pretty much went to bed with nothing left but exhaustion. My Friday off was spent doing chores and cleaning. It took me feeling like i was missing my life and my husband noting that I was missing my daughter’s activities. In 2 years she would be off to college and I would be left grinding away at an unfulfilling job. I looked for a contingent position and was hired quickly at a local long term care facility.
It took me a few weeks to feel like I didn’t have to be going 24-7 and it was ok if I had a day off.
I have more energy now. I’m exercising. I listen to my husband more intently. I volunteer for my daughter’s extracurricular activity events. I have been able to clean my Mom’s apartment and help her out more. I even get to visit my son and daughter-in-law for 2 weeks when she has her second baby so I can watch my granddaughter. My dad ended up being admitted where I work shortly after I started my job. If I had not admitted to myself and my family the misery I felt I never would have improved my outlook and life. Sometimes when you least expect it God reveals his plan, God is great!
Vanessia L Steelman says
I am in this place right now. I am a high school teacher with a year and a half left until retirement and I just don’t think that I can make it until them. I have so many responsibilities at school. I am empty. If I do what I need to for school, there is no time for me or my family. If I take time out for me or my people, then I am behind for the week. I need some balance. I just want to go home and be a wife, mom and grandmother. I’m so tired. Please pray for God to give me wisdom, enlightenment and strength. Thank you for your words of encouragement.
Beth Williams says
This world applauds doers. Society makes you feel like you should be doing or accomplishing something all the time. God never asks that of us. Lysa Terkeurst says it best in her book Your Best Yes: “Saying yes to everyone & everything won’t make you wonder woman. it will make you a worn out woman with nothing left to give.” Bonnie Gray in her book Finding Spiritual Rest talks about putting margin in your life. Making time in your day/week/month for rest. Rest is vital to our mental, physical & spiritual health. Just like cars need gas to run we need to refill our souls with rest & God’s word. Think on this: Jesus often went away from people to rest & be with the Father. If He needed rest then how much more do we? Praying everyone can put margins-spiritual whitespace- in their lives. Surrender the hurried always on the go life. Give yourself permission to say No & take nap.