Don’t lose your humanity in emotional overload

I have been interested in the news, current events, and societal trends for as long as I can remember. It is all about being an active member of society, an informed citizen, and an interpreter of what is going on in our world. But there is a trend toward emotional overload that I think is one of the greatest challenges we face as people who are living right here and right now.

When I was a child growing up in a rural area west of Seattle, we would travel over to the other side of the Cascades to Eastern Washington. Eastern Washington is like a different state from Western Washington: dry instead of wet, agricultural versus urban, red over blue. The most humorous image from Eastern Washington that sticks in my head today is of Hispanic or Mennonite folk unloading from a car. I saw it several times as a child. A station wagon or minivan would stop, and what seemed like 25 people would get out.

A car stuffed with too many people is dangerous because it is not designed or built to safely carry that load. The emotional overload trend I’m worried about is a lot like an over-crowded vehicle. In small town America, I see people driving overloaded.

Another way to think about overload is like a building block (such as LEGO or Mega Bloks). There are a limited number of studs on a building block. Whether there are four or six or eight “bumps” on the top to connect to other pieces, the basic capacity of that one piece can not be expanded. Once all the studs are filled, that piece is full and can’t take anymore.

Emotional Overload: Politics

Politics may be the sphere in which we are most obviously overloaded. If you stay tuned to your radio, TV, or other media sources, you are getting hit with issue after issue. Our media sources tend to not only provide us with an interpretation of facts, but also a selective choice of facts.

As a function of education, experience, expertise, and even time, it is not possible for the average person like you or me to really understand all of the issues at a deep level. We end up with strong opinions about way more issues than we realistically have a capacity for. Often our opinions vary only slightly from whatever media we trust most or are most exposed to.

Emotional Overload: Compassion

Compassion might be a less obvious area in which we are overloaded. There are an astounding number of tragic events happening around the world. So many of these tragedies involve a vast number of people: hundreds, thousands, and hundreds of thousands. If we take the human aspect of these events that now come right to our phones and TVs, it is easy to become overwhelmed or numb.

Where the danger with politics is that our opinions about a vast array of issues will soon outrun our actual understanding, the danger here is that our ability to feel and respond with compassion will be swiftly overrun by the sheer scale of tragedy and loss in our world. No one person has the capacity to deal with a world of trouble. Sometimes we have just enough capacity to deal with our own problems from today let alone our own personal history. As Jesus said (Matt. 6:34 NIV), “Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Emotional Overload: Wisdom

Wisdom is the area of overload that is most challenging to our humanity. It should concern us if we see ourselves becoming people who have strong feelings about dozens if not hundreds of political issues. We should be bothered if we are becoming people who are feeling and giving to causes all around the world. It should catch our attention if we are people who know every nit-noid detail about our sports team, our favorite pop star, or any other specialized area of knowledge.

None of these things are bad. But we are like a building block with a capacity. We are like a car with a certain number of seats. We can cram our attention, our emotion, and our time with so many things that we fail to consider wisdom. In our society, we give so much of ourselves to what is out there, whether it be politics, or tragedy, or pop stars. And while we are overloaded with all that, we don’t see what is happening right here in our community. We fail to take account of what it means to live with our neighbors in compassion and wisdom.

How should we deal with emotional overload? Are there ways we can become more aware of it? Is there a way to attend to what is beyond us, while better cultivating a useful presence right where we are? I’d love to hear from you. Hit me up by email or visit anytime.


Dr. Jon Wymer

Jon works as the pastor of York Evangelical Free Church in York, Nebraska. He also serves part-time as a chaplain in the Nebraska Army National Guard and at Nebraska Methodist College in Omaha.