We are a stressed people!
It’s written all over our faces. We see it in the lack of sleep, overloaded schedules, work demands, and family commitments, all pulling us simultaneously in juxtaposed directions. This stress is taking a heavy toll on our relationships both with one another and with God. We are a sleep deprived nation, seeking solace in meds and self-help books, to a spiritual condition. Last I checked, there is only person capable of all things, and He is God, so what makes us think we are capable of doing all and being all for everyone?! A good pastor-friend of mine once remarked during a staff devotion, “Every time you say ‘yes’ to something, you are saying ‘no’ to something else. So let your yes be yes and your no be no.”
Are there things in your life that need a “no”? Think for a moment about what is getting the best of who you are? Where do you spend the bulk of your time, resources, or finances? Where do the most important things, such as your relationship with God and your family, fit into your planner? Is your faith just getting the leftovers? Honestly, this is a constant area of struggle for me. There are moments where I feel like I am spinning out of control and then there are other times I feel like I could climb the tallest of mountains. Through the highs and lows, I have found that establishing and keeping boundaries a critical piece to a balanced and healthy faith and family life, because without some basic boundaries, situations and people will walk all over the sacred parts of who we are without the blink of an eye.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible describes a stressed Moses being comforted and challenged by Jethro, his father-in-law. Jethro had come to visit Moses bringing along with him Moses’ wife and two sons who had been staying with him up until this point. They had an incredible first day of reconnection filled with great food and discussion. Then along came day two. From early morning until late at night, Moses sat as judge: giving ear to disputes, solving problems, and positing leadership to the 3-4 million people that made up Israel. Here his family had just arrived, whom he hadn’t seen in a very long time, and where is Moses? He is at work! It would be like if my family were to take a vacation to see my family in Minnesota and as soon as we arrived I were to inform her that I had to fly back to Missouri for work. Not good! I guarantee, if I were to do that to my wife we would be having a family meeting, or shall I say “intervention”, right then and there!
Jethro’s biblical example of how he helped to organize and structure Moses’ leadership, family, and professional life is not only a powerful lesson for us today, but it helps to pave a way toward greater balance and health. As only a father-in-law can, Jethro helped guide Moses to realize that how he was living was unhealthy and showed him a more productive and vibrant path. So Jethro steps into the scene and lays it on the line, saying to Moses:
“What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone.” (Exodus 18:17b-18)
Jethro then goes on to explain a system of leadership that spreads the workload, responsibility, and ownership across the board to several layers of relationships (to read the whole account look at Exodus 18). Basically, Jethro helped Moses lay down some basic boundaries that would lead him, his family, and the people of God toward a more balanced approach to relational health. Can you relate to Moses? Is there a place in your life where God may be whispering, if not shouting, in your ear, “What you are doing is not good?” Busyness steals us from the important and throws us into what Charles Hummel calls the “tyranny of the urgent.” Living in such a place for an extended period of time can lead to burn out, if not worse.
I recently attended a gathering of pastors from the Rolla area. A presentation was done on “Nurturing the Servant’s Heart” by David Muench. Honestly, I went into it not having the best attitude, but God really challenged and stretched me through this time of learning. One of my key takeaways centered on the importance of setting boundaries. I hope the following exercise will bless you as it has me. Personally, I look forward to the challenge it will bring as I step toward living this process out in my life. I am sure this will be a topic I will revisit in future blogs since it is a constant area of growth for me, being the perfectionist that I am. Check out the following diagram, and as you do, think about your typical work week and mark out the pods according to your “current” schedule. Next, fill out the chart again, but this time using the boundary markers listed below the diagram, as a “preferred” outcome. The ultimate goal is a schedule with only 12 pods dedicated to vocational work.
Taking steps toward alleviating stress and living a more balanced life is difficult, because it may call for a change of habit or behavior. If you are thinking about setting up boundaries for yourself, here are some items to keep in mind: First, growth does not happen overnight, so be sure to give yourself the space and time needed to reach your intended goal(s). We are on God’s timetable, not ours. Second, breathe, take a nap, bake some cookies, go for a walk, play an instrument, or run around with your kids/grand-kids (or find some random kids in your neighborhood if you don’t have kids at home). The point is, do something out of your normal routine to release and lower your current stress levels. Third, lavish yourself and this process with God’s grace and forgiveness because mistakes will be made, but through the process we learn more of what it means to trust and let go of things into the hands of God. Lastly, prayer. This almost goes without saying, but it is important to bring God into the equation since none of the above is possible without the strength and guidance of God Himself.
Again, is there something in your life right now God may be encouraging you to say “no” to in order to spend better quality time with your family or on your relationship with God? Remember, let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”. God never designed us to live the frazzled and crazy lives we so easily create for ourselves. The Gospel means freedom, exuding life and overflowing hope to the stressed and heavy places that surround us. He desires that we work from rest–from “Sabbath” rest–a rest that comes only from relationship with God Himself and the cross He so freely bears for us.
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
Trusting, Leaning, and Growing,