Conventional wisdom says to avoid making too many life-altering changes at once. About to have a baby? Don’t start a new job. Did you just get married? Wait a while before you relocate.
Change can be good, but it’s also stressful. So don’t make too many changes at once. Right?
Sometimes, though, the world’s wisdom must yield to God’s, whose ways are not ours. Since March, our family has navigated change upon change, enduring a global pandemic like everyone else, welcoming a new baby, and transferring church campuses for my husband’s new pastoral position. If those changes weren’t enough, we put our house on the market (while tending a newborn, which I do not recommend), sold it, packed up our possessions, and moved.
And I wept.
The dam of survival had been fortified for months. It had to be. But then it broke. And the deluge was great.
Burdened Beyond Our Strength
When we’re overwhelmed––perhaps by many changes, or by one major change with seismic effects––Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:8 will resonate with us: “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength.” What an apt description of a full load and a heavy heart: utterly burdened.
Circumstances and responsibilities compound, becoming too much for us, and we wonder what to do with it all. How do we endure, whether through affliction, testing, a full plate, or change upon change? Better yet, how do we endure with joy and hope, rather than just getting through––or worse, being swept away or crushed under the pressure?
How do we endure with joy and hope, rather than just getting through?
Paul’s letters reveal a few truths to anchor overwhelmed minds and hearts.
God’s Provision of Daily Help
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Cor. 1:3–4).
We first need to know that God is an involved, aware, and compassionate Father who cares for us in the most basic ways. No provision is too small for him. We do not worship an aloof, disinterested deity, Paul insists, but “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort”—a deeply personal God who is full of gifts and delights to bestow them on his children.
When we are overwhelmed, we can remember that God never is. He is able to perfectly assign good gifts and provisions according to his wisdom and our needs. This should encourage us to ask him for what we think we need (he is God), and then trust him with what he chooses to provide (he is good).
When we are overwhelmed, we can remember that God never is.
How do we know this? Because he is also “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If he gave us his own Son, Paul’s argument from Romans 8 goes, can we not trust him to provide for our lesser needs? So often, divine provision comes through human means—a helping hand, a word of encouragement, a moment of quiet in the chaos—which is where Paul turns next.
God’s Provision of Relational Help
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. . . . You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Cor. 1:8, 11).
Stress and anxiety can tempt us to turn inward, isolate, and rely on ourselves. We feel shame over not handling our situation well; we think we don’t have the time or energy to invest in people, or perhaps we don’t want to burden them.
But Paul argues that the church is a means of his mercy, a portal of his provision, an extension of his comfort. When we’re tempted to keep his people at bay, that’s precisely when we most need to keep them close!
The church particularly offers two helps when we’re overwhelmed beyond our strength: comfort and prayer. Do you think you’re alone in this season? The saints have gone before you and can offer support, empathy, and wisdom––in other words, comfort.
Are you so exhausted and scattered that you’re struggling to pray? Cry out to the church to “help [you] by prayer.” Make specific requests, and trust that as people pray for you, God will grant you the blessings of his presence and help (see James 5:16).
God’s Provision of Supernatural Help
“For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2 Cor. 1:8–10).
God often upholds us through means, like his daily mercies and care from his people. But here, Paul writes about another way God provides: through supernatural help. Sometimes, when we are utterly burdened beyond our strength, when we feel we cannot take another step, we have a sense that God is walking beside us and carrying us. Perhaps this comes in hindsight.
The church is a means of [God’s] mercy, a portal of his provision, an extension of his comfort. When we’re tempted to keep his people at bay, that’s precisely when we most need to keep them close.
My family can attest to the truth of Paul’s words, our desperation being precisely what God has used to reveal his greatness to us, and the greatness of our hope. When the waves of change have seemed too much to bear in 2020, this is when we have seen God at work, and when we have most appreciated our anchoring resurrection hope.
For now, we have come to the other side of our “season of upheaval,” as we call it. The waves have calmed, and we ponder how we got through it all. Our conclusion is, God carried us. We were not alone, but were sustained the whole way.