After breaking down from ministry overload, I started really questioning my priorities, and over the past few months I’ve had some definite impressions: Maybe God wants to fulfill me in ways I never dreamed, not only by making my love my life’s work, but also my mode of ministry. I’m talking about writing, of course.
You see, something I’ve been struggling with since I’ve been staying home to write is balancing my “work” life with my ministry life. I’ve tried setting goals for myself, such as writing twenty-five hours a week…and I can’t explain why accomplishing this has been so hard when I don’t technically hold another “job.”
As I’ve been praying about this, God has suggested some reasons for the difficulty: I’ve been too controlling of others, I’ve taken it upon myself to provide for others, and I’ve allowed myself to get pulled from my writing to do jobs that I really shouldn’t be doing. This ranges from using my daily writing time for ministry emails or phone calls to saying yes every time friends suggest an outing. Lately I’ve also recognized a danger of losing all focus on my work because I get too involved with other people.
I have struggled to place my work time above “people” time—it’s become hard to sort out when to say no and when to say yes. My hubby always encourages me to go for the people time: “Take a break!” he says to his chronically busy wife. But after several months of frequent “breaks,” I feel I’m too often setting aside work. I’ve been documenting my writing hours each week, and sometimes I’m struggling to even reach ten or fifteen. Lately I have the added challenge of being short on energy due to pregnancy—so my “usable” hours have shrunk. I literally don’t have energy to do as much as I used to.
So, I am forced to choose.
The things I do are all “good” things. Building ministries, building relationships, writing an inspirational book. But I can’t do it all. What should I do?
I have some other impressions, I think, telling me I have to focus on my work right now. Because it might be my calling. It might be the single most significant way I’m meant to minister to others. If this is true, therein lies the answer to my work/ministry balance. My work is my ministry.
Right now while I’m still unpublished (bookwise) it’s hard to see it. The fruits of my labor are not yet tangible, as they are in my prayer ministry, church choir, and former Bible study. I see no immediate return. This is where faith comes in. What if Noah had given up on building the ark during the 120 years before its use?
For now, I am praying for God to give me more faith. I need clarity and insight, too, in case I am misguided about what God really wants me to do. I need to know for certain if these impressions about writing are my true calling—and then, if they are, I need to resolve to walk in the path God has placed in front of me. That is, if God has appointed me to write for my life’s work and my ministry, I need to stop being distracted by other “good” things, and let him bring forth fruit where I’m most fertile.
“Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you.Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil.”
There have been times in my life when a breakdown seemed imminent, and lo and behold, I had one. After those incidents, people in my life—like parents, counselors, and doctors—looked back on the circumstances surrounding the breakdown and agreed, “Yeah, it’s no wonder.” I, too, understood where those meltdowns came from.
But about six months ago when I short-circuited (not to the point of self-harm or anything, just had an incapacitating freak-out for a few days), it didn’t seem imminent. It was unexpected. And people around me would have said the same thing. Today I’m writing to try figure out: What was up with that? And is there a bigger issue (a hidden root) I need to deal with?
Most people when they look at my life wouldn’t say I’ve got a problem: They’d probably say I’m really organized and driven—not breakdown material. I’m a leader in my church and have labored for the past two years to bring others to Christ, because I was so excited when I finally found him. So, in 2011, I started a small group Bible study with the intent of providing a place for my “Christian” friends to talk about Christ. Prior to that, I noticed we didn’t really talk about him together. Go figure.
Then, I got involved with a prayer ministry called Straight 2 the Heart. I took a three-month training, co-wrote a book with the program’s mastermind, and several months later my prayer partner and I started praying with two other friends to help them experience the freedom and joy we had found.
Concurrent with my prayer training, I took on the position of music leader at church and drummed up all kinds of “great” ideas to bring our fragmented church back together. One of them was starting a choir, and another was putting song leaders into teams to create community.
Last fall, 2012, I was on a roll, doing just everything in my little power to “revive” my church, which, I thought, had grown stale. I was proud when my older brother, now a missionary, visited us and observed that our home, with its two Bible study/prayer meetings a week had become an outreach center. I basked in the glow of his approval: if you haven’t guessed, I thrive on such accolades.
Then, December came, and I had ten musical programs to line up, including the music all that month for church, and five vespers programs. Halfway through the month an out-of-state choir was to come perform, and I thought I had it all under control. I arrived at the church a safe thirty-five minutes early, or so I thought, only to be met by a disgruntled choir director who informed me I was supposed to have opened the church for them an hour in advance for set-up. She swore we’d discussed this detail on the phone, but I had absolutely no recall of it. Between setting up meetings, making phone calls, sending group emails to my Bible study and prayer groups, and coordinating choir things, my mind was too full to accommodate the memory.
It was then that I excused myself for the bathroom and broke down. In the farthest stall from the entrance, I sat and I cried and cried and cried. I started hyperventilating and couldn’t catch my breath. I called my hubby to ask what I should do. I was supposed to go out and introduce the choir in a few minutes, and I couldn’t stop crying.
Someone else ended up introducing them for me. Meanwhile, I missed almost all of Handel’s Messiah while I huddled in that bathroom stall trying to compose myself.
After December was done and I’d met my immediate commitments, I stayed home from church most of January, and I cancelled our home Bible study. People didn’t understand why I’d just quit cold turkey, and I couldn’t explain.
Making Sense of Things
Six months later, I know I had taken on too much. Not only did I take on too many jobs, but I took on the burden of other people’s salvation, and the burden of our church’s brokenness. Under the guise of “doing the Lord’s work,” I committed the sin of trying to play God himself, as if I could “save” my friends’ souls and fix my church’s issues.
I know I had the best of intentions, but now I also know I had a big problem. You see, after you’ve had a mountaintop spiritual experience, as I’d had during the prayer ministry, Satan swoops in with new wiles to trap you. After receiving so much healing, I felt on top of the world. And that’s when Satan must’ve suggested that I could make this healing happen for others. And do it in my own strength.
This week I’ve been praying about the same problem. After a bit of a ministry hiatus, I’ve been dipping back into outreach. As the church’s newly elected prayer coordinator, I’ve initiated a new prayer group at church, and as the communications secretary, I’m already dreaming big dreams for connecting our church in some new ways.
If I don’t watch out, I’ll end up barreling headfirst into another breakdown. How do I counter this good, yet bad, tendency?
Avoiding Future Breakdowns
Not long after said breakdown, I heard a sermon on Elijah’s “mountaintop” experience, after which he promptly sank into a despondent state (sounded familiar; see 1 Kings 18 and 19). The speaker said it’s common to fall low after experiencing a high, because we are worn out, and we let our guard down. Then he talked about how God actually commanded Elijah to rest for awhile, take care of himself, and then delegate work to someone else (shortly thereafter, he passed his prophetic mantle to Elisha).
This idea about resting after a strenuous effort was advice I needed to hear. So was the part about delegating. And it also reminded me of some other Bible passages I’d already read on this subject.
As I pondered this topic, God brought to mind the story in Exodus where he actually commanded Moses to dole out his work to seventy elders. I also remembered how the early apostles doled out food preparation duties when their numbers were growing rapidly so they could devote themselves to prayer and ministry of the word (Acts 6:3, 4). I also stumbled on other verses that encouraged me, such as Matthew 9:38 and Ephesians 4:11-13, which tell me God has a specific, special work for me—and it doesn’t include doing everything I theoretically and possibly could do for the Lord, or the church.
So how do I avoid future breakdowns?
Now I know that answer has something to do with delegating, taking some pressure off myself. And I know it also entails homing in on my specific appointed work from God and not getting sidetracked by any and every possible thing I could do for God, because then I’d never get a break (except when I break down!).
I also need to keep praying, to uproot the false beliefs that keep telling me I have to do it all. And I have to keep praying for God to reveal why I feel the need to control things—and I have to let him release me. Like every growing and healing experience, this one will take time.