Imagine this: one of your best friends is going through an incredibly difficult time. Maybe she even ends up in the hospital, and her children are all at home missing her like crazy, and she is struggling to be away from them, and her husband is trying to hold it all together. There are a lot of tests your friend has to go through. Some painful. She’s scared. Her family is scared. You’re scared. How do you respond?
If you’re on the more introverted side of the scale, chances are, you might recoil to the safety of your own home, wanting to help but unsure of how to do so. Or maybe you can’t even imagine how you’d be able to walk into your friend’s hospital room without losing it. And how is that going to make anything better?
I was reading Holley Gerth’s book, The Powerful Purpose of Introverts, and I came upon a passage that explains what happens when introverts find themselves in this situation. She shares that though introverts are often seen as distant, aloof, and apathetic, the opposite is usually true. She writes, “Many introverts actually care so much it overwhelms them.”
Is that you? Do you care so much that the pain of others is overwhelming?
What Overwhelm Looks Like
Can you relate to any of the following scenarios?
- Your daughter is going through a hard time at school, and you can’t stop imagining all the scenarios she is describing and experiencing it for yourself in your own mind.
- A family member just got diagnosed with cancer, and you avoid seeing them because you know you’ll fall apart the moment you look into their eyes.
- A dear friend from church just lost her child, and as you think about her loss, you literally spend hours just sobbing in your own dark room, day after day. You can’t seem to stop crying.
Grief in these situations is normal. Even healthy.
Yet overwhelm can look like a loss of control, a crushing of the spirit, an inability to focus on the tasks at hand. You are overpowered by the pain and grief so much that you cannot function.
When We Numb Our Emotions
For a while, I became so overwhelmed with the suffering of others that I refused to enter into the pain with them. I might there in person, but I wasn’t with them in spirit. I couldn’t be. It would hurt more than I could bear.
Maybe we even start to wonder if there’s something wrong with us. Is it possible to care too much?
Some days, it is far too tempting to just shut off our emotions and be numb to the pain of others. But this would lead to supporting them from a distance. We would be uncaring. Insensitive. Truly aloof and apathetic.
But part of what makes our encouragement meaningful to others is that they know we care so deeply about them. We hurt when they hurt. We cry when they cry. We feel their fears with them.
I don’t want that empathic part of us to just go away. But I do think there are some things we can do to surrender that to God and let Him use it in a way that is honoring to Him.
Ways to Manage Overwhelm
Deal with your own grief first.
By taking time to cry and mourn ourselves, we are then in a better place to be present with our friend in theirs. So if you need to, take the time to sit in your home and cry it out. Sit with God until you feel His peace resting on you. Do this each time you feel the grief rise up in your spirit.
Alternatively, if you feel like you are crying it out and you are not sensing God’s peace with you, maybe set a timer and allow yourself to cry for 30 minutes, and then wipe your tears, get up, and go about your day. Do this again, over and over again, until you sense Him with you.
I know that sounds strange, but it’s like we’re refusing to give into the grief and letting it have the last word. Instead, we acknowledge its presence, we allow ourselves to sit in it for a bit, but then we hand it over to God and let Him carry it while we pay attention to other things that are also important, like our family and our work.
Find someone to talk to.
When you are a caregiver to others, it’s important that you have your own network in place to help carry the load. Counselors often have someone they can debrief with so that all the hurt and heartache they hear throughout the day can have its proper place to be heard and felt, and then they can go home and be present with their own families.
If you have a good friend or confidant you can share these heartaches with, your own burden won’t be quite so heavy, and, again, you’ll be in a better place to help care for your friend.
If you don’t feel like you have that person right now, try writing it out in a journal. That’s another great way to release what is going on inside of you.
Don’t be afraid to cry with your friend.
Those who are hurting need to know that they are not hurting alone. And part of your ministry of encouragement is being there with them in the hurt instead of turning a blind eye to it. Friends, I can’t tell you how important this is. They need to know you care. They really do.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.Psalm 34:18, NLT
Leaving It With God
I think it ultimately comes down to being willing to leave it all with God. As an intercessor, sometimes a person comes to mind that I pray for. And I’ve been taught to pray until I am able to fully release it to God. I give Him the burden. I don’t have to carry it around all the time.
We have to be able to release our own grief to God, as well as our friend’s.
And so when you feel like you are being overwhelmed by the sorrow and grief of your loved ones, I encourage you not to let your heart grow hard and distant, but instead, that you will let God help you enter into that person’s pain in a way that is compassionate and honoring to Him.
God gave you empathy for a reason. It’s an important part of who you are. Don’t let Satan take that away from you. Instead, use it for His Kingdom and His glory.
You can do this, my friend. And I’m right here with you as you do.