I recently noticed that there is a difference between being “overwhelmed” and being “stressed.”

The word “stressed” has gotten such a negative connotation these days, not to mention that it is overused.

A few weeks ago, someone asked me, “How is your new job going?” To which I almost responded, “It’s stressful!”

But I stopped myself.

In that moment, I thought, Compared with my previous job, this job is amazing! How could this position be “stressful” if my last position was also “stressful”?

So I responded, “Great, but overwhelming.”

The individual that I was speaking with was happy with that response and moved on. I was happy with it too, but I knew I wanted to revisit this thought process at another time and contemplate more fully why we often call everything “stress.”

You see, my previous job was full of hurtful words, uncomfortable confrontations, and unattainable work-productivity expectations. Now that is stressful.

My recent, new job is full of caring coworkers and patience. It also has a pretty hefty workload every day, but when the work is assigned with purpose, done with pride, and finished with gratitude, the workload somehow becomes more manageable simply because of the positive atmosphere surrounding me.

Take a moment and think about something that you thought was “stressful” over the past month. For instance, the holidays. Ponder: were all the preparations and shopping “stressful” or were they “overwhelming”? Were your tasks completed with pride and happiness about the celebration of the coming Savior, or were they truly loathed and ultimately unappreciated?

As I was writing this post, I saw a Facebook post by Life 97.9 that said, “It’s about Jesus. It gets stressful when we try to make it about something else.” Yes! I thought. That is exactly what I am writing about! The holidays may have been a little overwhelming, maybe even a lot overwhelming, but for me they were not “stressful” because the focus was on helping others, making others happy, and sharing the love of Jesus.

So, by that definition, was the “stressful” time that you thought about above actually “stressful” or just overwhelming?

Recently, I acted as an “OWL” (Older Wiser Lutheran) for a confirmation group gathering at my church. One of the questions that I was asked to answer for the youth was, “How do you live out your faith in your career?”

Again, I thought about the above conversation and the string of thoughts that had been developing in my mind and heart about being stressed vs. being overwhelmed.

I answered the question like this, “In my career in state government, I cannot boldly act upon my faith, but I choose to live out my faith every day by being kind to others and by spreading joy whenever I can. Jesus modeled for us that we are to be kind and loving to all that we encounter and that we are to share love whatever way possible.”

The youth seemed to like that answer, and so did I.

I thought more about the situations and individuals that had made my previous job stressful, and how the atmosphere was so unkind and draining day in and day out. Then I thought about the vast differences between that atmosphere and the one in which I currently spend most of my time. They are so very different!

If we spend the majority of the hours in our week in a certain context, with certain people, why would we accept that as being a stressful environment? I would much prefer being overwhelmed (defined by my explanations above), but also feeling appreciated and loved, encouraged, and part of a team, important and difference-making.

So the next time that you find yourself saying, “I am so stressed,” stop and think: Am I stressed or am I overwhelmed? Am I in an environment that does not serve me well? Is there a purpose of love or praise or joy that is being fulfilled by these overwhelming acts?

Once you have evaluated the situation that is exhausting you, know that it is all right to be passionate and, although it may sound odd, strive to find moments of overwhelm where you know the exhaustion is worth every it, rather than moments of stress that lack meaning and worth. Look for the joy-sharing experiences and give those all of you, just as Jesus did.