6 Things to Do When You Feel Overwhelmed by Suffering in the World

Sophia Bricker

Contributing Writer
Published Aug 24, 2023
6 Things to Do When You Feel Overwhelmed by Suffering in the World

When we feel a great burden for the suffering of others, we can recognize compassion as a strength and a gift, use the sympathy we feel to urge us to pray and act and remember to care for our health, trusting that God is working.

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Suffering is present in the world. We need only turn on the news or check updates on our phones to read about the latest tragedy.

A recent event that brings me sorrow is the deadly Hawaii wildfires, which have left people mourning the loss of lives and dealing with the destruction of their homes.

The fires also remind me of other recent tragedies, including the earthquakes in Türkiye in 2022 and 2023, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In addition to global tragedies, suffering is present in other forms globally and locally. Millions have been affected by the global food crisis. Human trafficking and slave labor continue to affect adults and children around the world.

Also, people in our local communities are struggling with mental illness, chronic diseases, loss of loved ones, homelessness, addiction, abuse, and poverty.

Not only that, but numerous amounts of people still need to hear the gospel. There are many places that are yet to be reached with the good news of Jesus Christ.

Feel overwhelmed yet? I know I am. So, what can we do when all the suffering in the world weighs on our hearts, and we are left in tears, not knowing what we can do or if our efforts make a difference?

1. Recognize That Being Compassionate Is Good

The first thing we should do is recognize that feeling overwhelmed can be a good thing. Yes, you read that correctly. In our technological age, people can easily become desensitized to the pain of others because we regularly see images of suffering and read about tragedies online.

Also, the popular psychology of today encourages us to practice positive thinking, sometimes to the extent of ignoring difficult emotions.

The fact that we feel compassion and sympathy for those who are in pain can be a powerful force for change. In Hudson Taylor’s autobiography, he writes positively about keeping our hearts soft.

As he wrote, “Perhaps if there were more of that intense distress for souls that leads to tears, we should more frequently see the results we desire” (Hudson Taylor, p. 51).

When was the last time we cried for those who are lost and without access to the gospel, those who are suffering due to war, or those who are starving both physically and spiritually? I am not arguing for unhealthy spiritual emotionalism but for a genuine concern for others.

As Christians, compassion is an important trait since we are called to love others (Mark 12:31). We should be coming alongside those who are suffering and offering to be present with them in their pain (Romans 12:15).

In doing so, we model the love of Christ, who became like us by adding humanity to His divinity and dying for our sins (Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 2:17).

Instead of seeking to find relief from feeling overwhelmed, we should recognize that compassion and sympathy for others can be an indication that the Lord is working to make our hearts soft and attentive to what He cares about.

Maybe we should not so quickly ignore the burden we have for those who are suffering around us, since the Lord can use compassionate individuals for His good.

2. Pray

Oftentimes, people wait to pray until they are desperate for help. However, as believers, we should turn to the Lord first in every circumstance.

Scripture reminds us to, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7, NLT). We can bring our overwhelming burden to the Lord, knowing that He loves and listens to us.

Praying is also important because the concern we have for those who are suffering and in need aligns with the Lord’s concerns.

Throughout the Bible, we see how God deeply cares for those who are brokenhearted, needy, lonely, poor, orphaned, and widowed (Psalm 34:18; 68:6; 113:7; 146:9; Proverbs 19:17; James 1:27).

As much as our hearts might be heavy with sadness for those who are in pain, God’s concern for them is even greater. He sees the smallest sparrow fall, which shows us that He sees and cares about all the suffering in the world, even situations that we may not know about (Matthew 10:29-31).

Although there are certain people who use the phrase, “I will pray for you,” as a quick and thoughtless response to the hardships of others, we should pray for others. 

Not just saying we will, but actually communicating the requests and hardships we hear about to the Lord. Too often, we forget that there is power in prayer (James 5:16). Interceding for others is not the least we can do, but a great act of love toward them.

So, go ahead. Make a list of all the different aspects of suffering in the world that are burdening you. Write them down in a prayer journal, on a notepad, or in a computer document.

Then, spend time with the Lord, pouring out your concerns and sorrows to Him. Know that He is listening and that he cares about you and those you are lifting in prayer. He cares even more than you do.

3. Do Something

Recognizing compassion as an opportunity and spending time with the Lord in prayer will often lead us to consider what we can do to relieve the suffering of others.

We should allow the feeling of being overwhelmed to motivate us to put our faith into action (James 2:18). With the Holy Spirit’s direction and nudging, we can take a step toward showing compassion to someone else and bringing hope into an otherwise dark situation.

What God calls us to do might involve various levels of action, but all require obedience, and all can make a difference. The following list includes a few ideas for doing something to help bring hope to others:

1. Offer to meet up with a co-worker, friend, or loved one who is struggling.

2. Write a note of encouragement to someone.

3. Visit a sick or elderly member at your church.

4. Involve your family or church in running a food or clothing drive for your local homeless shelter.

5. Research unreached people groups that may live in your area. In the modern age, there are many people from unreached areas who have immigrated to the United States, Canada, and Europe. If they live near your city, you could seek to build relationships and share the gospel with them.

6. Pray for specific issues, countries, or people groups each day.

7. Give or volunteer at a Christian humanitarian organization.

8. Sponsor a child through an organization like Compassion International or World Vision.

9. Fund mission work and Bible translation for unreached areas.

10. Volunteer in your local community — build relationships, pray for others, and spread the love of Christ.

Of course, we want to be wise when seeking to help those who are suffering. Before investing time or money in an organization, we need to ensure their doctrine aligns with Scripture and that they are honest in their practices and use of finances.

Also, providing care and aid for others should produce sustainability, regardless of whether we are getting involved with church planting or feeding the hungry. Let’s be wise as we seek to help others.

4. Take Time to Rest and Replenish

Feeling overwhelmed by the hardships and pain in the world can take a toll on a person’s health. A person can quickly start to neglect their spiritual, mental, and physical health because they are trying to carry the burden of the suffering of others on their own.

Thus, we need to make sure to take time to rest and replenish so that we do not burn ourselves out.

In the Bible, Elijah became discouraged and thought he was the only one left who followed the Lord (1 Kings 19:10). Depressed and drained, he prayed that God would take his life (1 Kings 19:4).

Instead of giving Elijah a pep talk or urging him to do more, the Lord sent an angel to strengthen him by giving him time to sleep and eat (1 Kings 19:5-7).

Christians should learn from Elijah’s experience and recognize God’s gift of rest. The principle of the biblical Sabbath is that the Lord is the One in control, not us.

We can rest, giving our to-do lists and action plans to Him, trusting that He is always working to bring about His will (John 5:17).

Trusting that God is at work frees us to take a day off, eat a nourishing meal, fellowship with others, spend extra personal time with the Lord, or go on a walk outside.

When we feel overwhelmed by the pain present in the world, we can choose to rest in our Savior and find renewed strength (Matthew 11:28).

5. Remember That God Is Working

When we are burdened with the problems around us, we can easily forget that God cares and is at work. Death, illnesses, natural disasters, poverty, and wars sadden the Lord.

Suffering was not what God wanted for us, but because of Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey the Lord in the Garden of Eden, sin and death entered the world (Romans 5:12).

Despite the fact we live in a fallen world, there is hope because Jesus came to die for our sins. By trusting in Christ’s death and resurrection, we receive forgiveness of sins and the promise of new life (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 1:7).

In Him, we have hope for the present and future. In addition to the hope He gives us, He also can work through us to bring light and healing to a hurting world (Matthew 5:13, 16).

We might be tempted to think that we are alone in our burden for those who suffer, but God cares, and He is currently using His church around the world to bring His love and good news to others. Take heart — God is working.

6. Remember That There is Hope in Christ

If we pause and pay attention to the news, we can quickly recognize the presence of suffering in the world. There are situations locally and globally that can leave us feeling overwhelmed and heartbroken.

However, when we feel a great burden for the suffering of others, we can recognize compassion as a strength and a gift, use the sympathy we feel to urge us to pray and act, and remember to care for our health, trusting that God is working. Even in the darkest situations, there is hope because of Jesus Christ.

For further reading:

Does Jesus Understand Our Suffering?

Can Suffering in Silence Really Be a Sin?

Why Is There Suffering in the World?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/triocean

Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. She holds a BA in Ministry, a MA in Ministry, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing to develop her writing craft. As someone who is passionate about the Bible and faith in Jesus, her mission is to help others learn about Christ and glorify Him in her writing. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening. 

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