Written By Rachel Tan, Malaysia, Originally in Simplified Chinese
Recently, I’ve been getting so overwhelmed by the demands of life that there are times I feel like I can’t breathe. I’m consumed with panic when I meet someone new at school and simply forget how to start a conversation. Or I freeze when I’m trying to lead a team in church. Even during class, I sometimes feel so anxious that it impacts my ability to understand the material.
When I find myself freezing up in these daily situations, it tends to make me even more nervous and frightened. My first instinct is to become paralyzed by a sudden fear, quickly followed by a desire to flee—from responsibility, from problems—to a place where I can hide from the world and the emotions that suffocate me.
As the burden of expectations grows heavy on my shoulders, it blinds me from seeing purpose in everything I do. I’m left feeling like all is meaningless—to the point where I feel as if there is nothing to look forward to in life. In an attempt to regain perspective, I have poured myself into searching for the meaning of life. After much journeying, God has begun to help me find some answers in His Word. Here are three truths about God that I hold on to when I’m feeling overwhelmed:
1. I have a God who gives purpose in fear
When I turned to the Book of Ecclesiastes, I found a relatable sentiment in the opening. It says,
“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless’” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
In context, the writer is lamenting the fact that our labor on earth, the search for earthly wisdom, entertainment, and wealth, are as meaningless as chasing after the wind. The closing of Ecclesiastes helps us understand this more by pointing us to what is truly worthwhile on this earth:
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
I realized that I had been living in pursuit of meeting worldly expectations that I set for myself in the various roles I held as a student, church leader and peer. If these continued to be my focus, then my life would ultimately be meaningless. But these words in Ecclesiastes gave me hope for new meaning in life. They were sweet words of assurance that I did not need to stress over how every situation would pan out, because my goal was not to overcome every problem.
I was created to focus on God—on following, glorifying, and fearing Him—and obeying His words. Understanding this helped me to shift my focus away from the weighty expectations of doing things right in various situations to resting in the promise that God created me to fear Him.
2. I have a God who is with me when I can’t breathe
As I further sought God through Scripture, I found great hope in this Psalm:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. . . even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:1, 4)
Whenever I meditate on these two verses, my heart rests in the reminder that the Lord is my shepherd. I do not need to run away in fear, nor do I need to worry that I will be harmed. He is with me. His rod and His staff will comfort me and guide me in the right direction.
Furthermore, Jesus understands all that I experience—including the suffocating pressure I feel as I walk through dark valleys. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” I’m comforted to know that not only is Jesus with me as a guide and comforter, but he can empathize with my struggles and furthermore extend mercy and grace to help me when I am in need (Hebrews 4:16).
3. I have a God who invites me to bring my burdens before Him
When the pressure of what most consider a typical day overwhelms me, I am reminded of Jesus’ words, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).
As I read this verse, I am reminded that if I am unwilling to dwell in God’s word and rely on Him, my burdens will remain as burdens. I will continue feeling suffocated by them. But something else happens when I willingly come before Jesus to learn from His gentleness and humility—I experience the rest He grants as I seek to learn from Him. I can have confidence to face challenges in ministry or problems in life, understanding that they are not my burdens to bear.
Sometimes I still find myself struggling to manage my life without feeling suffocated. But now, I remember that my shepherd calls me to His side and to rely on Him. When I can’t breathe, I hear a still voice prompting me to re-center my mind on Jesus instead of my circumstances. When I encounter problems, I do not flee, but can choose to entrust every struggle to God.
I am also learning to communicate and interact with my co-workers, and to not shy away from situations that have been stress-inducing in the past. None of the problems I faced before have changed—I am just learning (by God’s grace) to adapt and respond differently. I know that Jesus will be with me on the road ahead. I do not need to be afraid. Instead, I remember all that He has taught us, and walk forward while relying on Him.