On Chaos and Complexity

Sudden overwhelm is the worst.

It’s unexpected and highly inconvenient, especially when you have eight hundred things to do.

Today we are going to slow down and talk about what’s actually happening when life suddenly feels like too much.

A Story on the Beach

In February, I attended a homeschool moms’ retreat in Point Pleasant, NJ. It was wonderful. The ladies knew I was on the verge of launching this blog, but I hadn’t told anyone that the day was coming up in a week and a half.

Only I knew.

I’d been hammering out my plan for almost a year, and it had gotten to the point where I just needed to start, for goodness sake.

So basically, I’d been a mess lately…about launching a blog called A Life at Rest…

I know, it was very ironic. (Another reason why I’m not coming at this topic as an expert.)

Trying to juggle my roles as wife, mom, homeschooler, household manager, and soon-to-be blogger had left me wobbly to say the least.

During some free time, I snuck down to the beach to take in the calm I desperately needed.

I looked at the cloud-filled sky, the flocks of migratory birds, the endless peaks and valleys of the waves, the foam’s incessant fizzling along the shore that stretched for miles, the millions of grains of sand.

Then I started thinking about the ocean life, the water molecules in the clouds, the pull of the moon and the tides, and the fact that this was all happening simultaneously on a global scale.

Practically clutching my head, all I could think was, “There is so much going on!! This is chaos!”

Yes, I can hyperventilate on the beach at a retreat.

It wasn’t really about the beach. Sometimes life just feels particularly overwhelming all of a sudden.

Let’s put aside the fact that our lives are at times ridiculously over-scheduled and need to be adjusted. Or that we get overwhelmed when our priorities are all out of whack. We’ll catch those in future posts, I’m sure.

Today, we are zeroing in on the phenomenon where one minute everything feels fine, but the next everything feels heavy and terrible.


In the thick of it, my emotions break on me like twenty-foot waves. It makes complete sense to me that I should be freaking out, regardless of whether things were fine five minutes ago.

The details we are managing gang up on us all at once. Maybe a painful memory is triggered. Or we face new or unexpected challenges, some that turn our world upside-down.

There are really hard things that hurl us into our “This is chaos!” moments.

My heart craves closure. To have everything neatly tied up into bows. To live happily ever after, with no need to wait, to wonder, to endure the tension of the unknown or the pain of loss.

But we exist in a crazy world full of dissonant chords, fragmented sentences, and jagged edges.

Life can leave us with an aching “Why, God?” in our chest.

Chaos vs. Complexity

As I sat still on the beach, breathing deeply and lifting my chaotic heart to the Lord, a different picture started to come into focus, both in front of me and within me.

What I was interpreting as chaos was actually complexity.
I was just too zoomed in to see the difference.

I was witnessing God’s fathomless handiwork, in the sky and sea and land around me.

We see it in our lives: the people He’s placed in it, the responsibilities on our shoulders, the circumstances around us, and the unique way we’ve been created to glorify Him.

The enormity of what God constantly upholds is dizzying, but it isn’t chaos.

Why is it important to make the distinction between chaos and complexity? Both of them can leave me completely overwhelmed.

It is because the differences are crucial.

Chaos has no redeeming purpose. It is haphazard, evil, dark, and cruel. A world out of control.

Complexity is intricate and complicated. It is beautiful. There is an order to it. A genius to it. But it is beyond me.

It is the world out of my control.

Complexity says there is a plan. That nothing is wasted. That God is a redeemer of things we counted unredeemable.

Overwhelm is Not the Enemy

We are going to have moments where life feels like too much.

It doesn’t mean we are not making progress. All it means is that we’re human beings. And there’s no way we can mentally handle the infinite complexity around us all the time.

Overwhelm has been able to bring me to my knees before the Lord in times when pride wouldn’t have let me come. God has used it to crack open my hard heart so He can pour in healing.

It is not the enemy, but we do have one. There is a battle going on. It’s not just in our heads. We live in a fallen world with horrific evil and chaos.

But we need to understand that though we might live here, we are citizens of the kingdom of God.

You are not in chaos, no matter what your feelings are telling you. God has a hold on you. And nothing can separate you from His complex plan. Not sudden job loss, not a poor doctor’s report, not even the unspeakable thing you fear the most.

Our steps are ordered of the Lord. He walks them with us, fully knowing the things we will face, aware how we will need Him, and ready with His steadfast love and mercy.

If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence. When I thought, “My foot slips,” your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.

Psalms 94:17-19

Father,

May our sudden overwhelm ever point us to you. I pray now that you would comfort those who feel chaos in their soul today. Help us to trust you and know you are God.

Thank you for holding us up.

Amen.




6 thoughts on “On Chaos and Complexity

  1. This was a timely post for me! I feel like I’m constantly thinking “when will I finally get my to-do list done?” Then I can start living my real life. When in reality I’ve had the same running to do list for years, and I seem to add to it much quicker than I cross things off. Talk about overwhelm!

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  2. Chaos vs. Complexity-going to be thinking and praying about this for awhile! There is richness here to meditate on and savor. Thank you. 🙂

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  3. Mind blown! ‘Chaos vs complexity’.
    Thank you for being so open with us. This is a whole new way of looking at things that WILL definitely be life/situation changing🙌

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