Maximizing the Meltdown

There you are, in the middle of a quite ordinary day, going about your business. Cue the bad news.

Palms start sweating, heartbeats thunder, thoughts race like they’re competing in a derby.

Whether it’s a regular occurrence or a rare one, we all have meltdowns; the perfect storm of circumstances and emotions is simply part of the human condition, though the darkness dances when we lose our footing. Panic, rage, despair, and confusion crash over us, knocking the air from our lungs. Some people lash out, others retreat. Amid the tempest, though, we aren’t without resources. The cross speaks a better word, even when the winds howl and the churning waters rise. Haven’t you heard? Jesus has a habit of calming storms.

Next time it all seems too much, challenge yourself to reframe the situation from a threat to a gift, a chance to let your God—in the fullness of His sovereignty—grow in you a new thing. How? Run a diagnostic using this meltdown checklist:

  1. How am I feeling?
  2. Why am I feeling those things?
  3. What am I thinking?
  4. What has historically contributed to those thoughts?
  5. To what extent is this meltdown emotional? spiritual? physical? mental?
  6. What am I longing for?
  7. What am I responsible for in this situation?
  8. What am I not responsible for in this situation?
  9. Where can I repent of pride here?
  10. Where can I repent of unbelief here?
  11. What is true of God right now?
  12. What does He say is true of me?
  13. How have I forgotten His wisdom, power, or goodness?
  14. What boundaries can I set to enter back into the situation safely?
  15. What truth and beauty will help me move forward in love?

You don’t have to write all of the questions down in the moment, though some quiet space to explore would certainly be helpful. Consider your individual wiring. Do you prefer to process verbally with a friend or internally by yourself? Through journaling or working with your hands or doodling or mulling it over on a run? Perfecting what doesn’t work for you won’t prove too much of a benefit.

It’s key to identify specifics rather than settling for a shrug as you work through this exercise. If you’re willing to put in the effort, these questions are personal enough to shed light on what’s going on and brainy enough to lift you from emotions to thoughts, stopping the feels from overwhelming you.

Because meltdowns are multifaceted, it’s vital to tease out the different strands of what’s happening. For instance, I have learned how important the physical aspect of personal crises can be. Sometimes the world isn’t actually collapsing down around my ears—I’m just hungry or exhausted (or, you know, extra hormonal). Likewise, if I’m under spiritual attack, I shouldn’t expect a grilled cheese to fix everything. Is there a chemical imbalance? A lingering unrelated but unresolved issue causing heightened sensitivity? Am I feeling guilty about something? Once all of the pieces are out on the table, my response to the disaster is easier to deal with.

Jesus isn’t in the business of wasting our troubles. Everything He allows is meant to increase our awareness of and affection for Him. Given that starting point, meltdowns aren’t the worst-case scenario; they’re infused with the forward movement of learning something true, even through falling to pieces. (Admittedly not the most graceful kind of forward movement, but grace-filled forward movement nonetheless.) What the enemy hoped would destroy us in fact leads to more vibrant life. What glorious triumph!

Remember that you’re not in the eye of the storm alone. As the Spirit hovered over the waters the first time chaos ruled, so His presence is dwelling in you now, yearning to form a Genesis week in you again. It was only when things seemed darkest that the light blazed its beauty into the thick of reality.

The light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. If we can take hold of our own hearts in the middle of the meltdown, there’s no telling what God might do.

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