Overwhelmed vs. Whelmed

  • Randy Karlberg
Dog with blanket wrapped around it

It might not be fear that we are dealing with in our life, but it is just the sense that I can’t take this any more. It is the sense of being overwhelmed. But is there such a thing as being whelmed? And if whelmed is a state of being, what is the difference between whelmed and overwhelmed? Thankfully as I typed “whelmed” into this blog, the spellcheck lights did not flash vigorously which I have become so accustomed to. Therefore, I will continue with my thought process, hoping not to underwhelm any potential reader who might stumble over this diatribe.

When a person states that they are overwhelmed, I typically hear that they are buried so deep that they cannot see a way out. The definition of “overwhelmed” speaks to a past tense of being “buried under a huge mass.” But a second acceptable usage is “to be completely defeated.” When I use the term “overwhelmed” or hear someone else use the term I hear that sense of feeling completely defeated. This leads me to a state of questioning and fear with regards to what the future holds. When I am overwhelmed, I deal with anxiety, tension, and even anger. It is as if I want others to feel the stress level that I am experiencing, and I often let those closest to me know the mood I am in.

Genuinely sharing how you are doing with those close to you is not a bad practice. As a matter of fact, some of us need to do a better job of sharing our stress. This helps to bring intimacy in relationships which can deepen our commitment and love for others. We just need to make sure that in sharing our current mindset we do not move to sinful behavior or the blaming of others.

The problem I see is that staying in a mode of being overwhelmed includes having a level of fear which can lead to incapacitation. The helplessness and depression that often accompanies being overwhelmed is not good for us. So my argument is rather than wallow in a state of being overwhelmed, move to a state of being just “whelmed.” Now before you swipe this to your trash or push the “X” in the upper corner, try to read a bit more.

Being whelmed means you are still under a large burden which you must work through, but it does not have the same sense of anxiety, depression, or isolation. You can see some light shining from above through the pile of burdens. You realize that it is a heavy load, but you also realize that even small strides in working on the heap will move you towards a feeling of manageability. You can see a path forward and in that there is hope. Now the question I have been waiting to address. How does one avoid or move from being overwhelmed to being whelmed?

Well naturally I am going to give you the answer from I Peter 5:7 , “casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” We need to just surrender our worries on Jesus! The world will tell you that makes no sense; you are just living in a make-believe world. Now believers will tell you that that is easy to say, but not easy at all to do! And they would be correct. This is not easy to lay your burdens at the feet of Jesus. It definitely can be a testing of our faith. There are those who have reviled against the Lord because He has not answered their overwhelmed state with calm resolve, at least not in the way they imagined or desired.

In order to understand God’s work to help us get from overwhelmed to whelmed, we need to read the preceding portion of I Peter 5 . This chapter begins exhorting the elders of the church to “shepherd the flock that is among you.” The elders are to lead in a humble and encouraging way. It continues telling the younger “sheep” to subject themselves to the elder’s leadership over them. This subjection should be done, “with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

This humility is mentioned three times in six verses! It may take me a bit to understand the point, but even I can see that God is calling His people, young and old, to be humble! Also did you notice that if a person is not humble, God stands in opposition to that person? I do not want that to be true of me!

It is with that background that we enter into the next two verses telling us that Jesus wants to bear our burdens. I Peter 5:6-7 , “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” First, we need to humble ourselves and realize that we are committing ourselves to the guidance and protection of the “mighty hand of God.” Quite frankly, that is where I want to be! The only way I receive the protection of God’s mighty hand is when I humble myself before Him! If I realize my situation is not only mine, but God is protecting and providing for me, I can start to rest in Him. But first comes humility. Secondly, God will “exalt you” or lift you up when it is the proper time! This is not a promise for immediate resolve of an issue. We live in a society where one of the most treasured values is immediate gratification! Let us be honest; we are conditioned to be impatient and self-centered people. Could it be that there is some personal growth God desires us to possess that only will come through humility and with a patient resolve towards God’s leading? Yes, I know this to be true. I have been learning this in numerous ways the past several years. Real spiritual growth comes with humility, time, and faithfulness in the midst of uncertain circumstances.

For an example, read what happened to Saul in I Samuel 13 when he became impatient. Also read how Simeon and Anna were exalted as a result of their enduring faithfulness in Luke 2 . The conclusive distinction between suffering as overwhelmed and working through a whelmed condition is humbly and repeatedly casting your anxieties on Jesus and resting in the assurance that He cares for you and is cultivating your faith. Please Lord, help me to be unwearyingly whelmed.