What to do when the world feels too heavy.

There is a quote by Tim Keller on the whiteboard in my office that reads, “The Christian faith has a hope that overwhelms grief. This hope doesn’t get rid of the grief or pain but sweetens and shifts it.” I wrote these words out on the morning of July 17th, when my Twitter feed filled with news of a passenger airline being shot down over Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists.  It was the second Malaysia Airlines flight to lose its entirety of crew and passengers this year.

The first time was in March, when Flight 370 disappeared somewhere over the Indian Ocean one night. I remember reading the news at my guesthouse in Haiti, where just four years earlier, the Earth stretched and groaned and killed over 220,000 people with its shaking.  And there I was, in the aftermath of one tragedy, reading about a new one. I was immediately horrified at the vastness of our world that it could actually just swallow 239 people whole.

Yesterday, I read the transcript of President Obama’s order of airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL in Israel.  Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled from these extremists to the top of a mountain, where they are facing death by thirst and starvation, rather than be brutally murdered for their beliefs. I had to pour my cup of decaf coffee down the sink.

Earlier that day, a neurologist circled a large black mass on a photo of my mom’s brain. As my eyes focused in, everything around me seemed to silence and blur, except for his words “never again.” I walked down the hospital halls, quietly asking God if it was true that my mom would never again be on her own, or have a relationship, or drive a car, or travel, or experience a full range of emotion.  Will she ever again comprehend who you are, Lord and truly love you? And if not, will you still embrace her when this is all over?

Is your heart slowly sinking in your chest?

I don’t know if it’s true for most people, but when anxiety is an addiction you’ve fought your whole life, you must continually frame grief and pain in the landscape of who God is, or be swallowed whole.  When a plane crashes in the Ukraine, or disappears over the Indian Ocean, you suddenly feel the weight of every lost hope and dream of each passenger. When Christians are dying in Israel because of their faith, you don’t just say a silent prayer in your air-conditioned church. You whole-heartedly mourn the suffering of your brothers and sisters. These tragedies feel as personal as your own mother’s loss of quality of life and before you know it, you’re overwhelmed with sorrow for the world we live in.

It’s ok to feel too much. The author of 1 Thessalonians 4:13 writes,Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” We should never be so detached from the rest of the world as Americans that we lose our ability to feel for them. And try as we might, we will never be able to rid the world of brokenness. So how do we reconcile that brokenness with self-care? How do we mourn tragedy but not succumb to life-shattering anxiety over the daily news?

Sweeten and shift.

We must remember what we know about who God is and paint our pain into His beauty. He gives us direction, so we’re never on our own (Psalms 48:14). He is righteous and compassionate, teaching us how to give grace (Psalms 50:6, Psalms 116:5). He protects and comforts us, giving us a home to run to (Psalms 94:22). He equips and provides all that we need (2 Corinthians 9:8, Psalms 54:4). And among countless other names, He is love (1 John 4:16).

So, take heart. We are never alone in our sadness. When you feel the weight of the world, remember that our God is in the business of overcoming death with victory. It is the mystery of His Majesty that we can feel a rush of peace fall over us when we call upon Him. And it is proof of His sweet love for us that we can live with a hope that overwhelms grief.

Shannon Douglas

Born and raised in Southern California, Shannon is now the Communications Director for South Hills Church. She enjoys storytelling, styling events, strategizing for organizations, and going to Disneyland. Read more about Shannon in the "Our Team" section of She Has Worth.

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