Ever feel like you are letting everyone down?

Keeping count of the number of friends and family who feel they are letting everyone around them down can no longer be done with my fingers. I’m not sure what has so many stuck in this season right now but it is a feeling I fight from time to time myself.

I’ve determined it is never quite as extreme as it seems but when the feeling hits, it is hard not to believe it is every bit as bad as it feels.

When I experience the “letting everyone down” moment, I am typically overwhelmed.

Because high expectations and countless requests are part of my everyday life, I count it a success that most days I can bounce between them all — whether successfully or not — with energy and a smile.

But some days are different. What changes when the routine becomes discouraging?

For me, I am more vulnerable and emotional when I’m overly committed, tired, not exercising and spending too little time in God’s Word.

But even then I don’t tend to move into the “letting everyone down” mode until I begin sensing disappointment from those closest to me that I’m not focused on them enough. It might mean I’m not physically present; it might mean I’m not in tune emotionally; it might mean I’m not doing enough to help out.

Can be crippling

I can’t speak for others nor have I done any research to truly understand where they are and what they are facing, but I know how they are feeling and understand the crippling nature of where it leads.

As for my journey, I’ve determined what I’m sensing in those moments is my own guilt and disappointment in myself. I truly want to be present for everyone in my life and I want to be caring and helpful at all points but sometimes there are more needs than I can handle alone.

It is always hard for me to not step up, jump in or assist. It’s equally as hard for me to admit I’m not always the best or right choice to help and, in some cases, that I’m already overcommitted and can’t add another item to the list.

Working through it

But what about the unexpected serious needs that arise, those things we absolutely know need our attention?

Those are the times we do what we have to do and figure it out in the mix of it all. And we continuously work to build margin in our lives so there’s wiggle room in our schedules to handle the unexpected without taking us down in the process.

Remembering to share the load is another good choice to make. It may mean one person gets more credit than another. It may mean some roles are more popular than others. But if we can humble ourselves to do what needs to be done and not worry about who gets to do what or who gets credit, then we can be a powerful force of assistance in taking care of the need at hand.

I expect a lot of myself and others. Others expect a lot of me. I’m thankful for that because I do believe high expectations keep us sharp, growing and doing our best.

Prioritizing expectations

At the same time, I’m still learning how to prioritize the expectations so those who should be receiving the best of me aren’t getting the leftovers.

I’m also working to give a gift to those in my life I sense are overwhelmed by being super selective about what I ask of them. I’ve decided not to be a person who is only focused on clearing my own to-do list each day.

Instead I want to find something I can do every day to make someone else’s load a little bit lighter (preferably something unexpected) while also being realistic with the load I’m choosing to carry. And with helping someone else comes a bonus blessing that chips away at any discouragement that might be looming — for in that moment I’m lifting others up rather than letting them down.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Could too much ‘church’ actually hurt believers’ spiritual growth?

The concept intrigued me — worship, Sunday School, discipleship and service. Those were the only four commitments my seminary buddy said he was requesting of the members of the congregation he served as pastor.

He cut out all extracurricular activities. He urged the members to move away from the once-pushed plan to build a recreational facility. And he asked the ministers on staff to eliminate any unnecessary meetings. too-much-church

He wants the congregation and staff members to dedicate themselves to growing in Christ and being salt and light in the community, not being busy at church.

If church members are so busy doing church activities, then they aren’t out in the community, he said. And if they are exhausted from all the church obligations, then they won’t have much energy left for their own spiritual growth, much less sharing with nonbelievers.

Overwhelmed with life

I thought more about what my friend was attempting to do in his church and remembered a strong Christian family I learned about who pulled away from church recently solely because of being overwhelmed with life. Church — which had been a major focus of this family’s life for years — had diminished into one more distressful obligation riddled with guilt for not doing enough. I’m sure no one actually forced these feelings on the mother and father, but it was certainly how they were feeling and it influenced their decision to pull their family out of the church.

Many are reaching out to the family, urging them to return and sharing concerns of how being out of church is not the answer. But I’m not sure anyone is finding a way for them to simply come worship without feelings of unrealistic expectations.

Calm instead of bustling?

What if our experience in church was truly a Sabbath experience of complete and full worship of the one true living God rather than a schedule of bustling activities where we zip into the parking lot still getting ready, run into the church service five or 10 minutes late, then rush to our Sunday School (or life group) class while catching up with friends along the way?

What if we knew our time attending church services each week would be energizing and filling but not hectic? What if we could truly clear our minds, calm our hearts and still our souls so we could hear from God in those moments and give sacrificially through our complete worship? What if we could leave our church services ready to face the world again?

Responsibility to be prepared

Of course, it is our responsibility as individual Christians to be prepared for worship and not the church staff’s issue. We have to be disciplined enough to spend time in the Word throughout the week so our hearts are prepared for the corporate worship service. And we have to be disciplined enough to guard our schedules appropriately to prevent the chaos that sometimes revolves around church time.

But still I wonder if our church leaders could do more to help members see the importance of being still (Ps. 46:10). If there are constant requests to sign up for endless activities at church, then members will feel obligated and sometimes even pressured to participate, which adds one more thing to the schedule.

Rested and revived

While there are certainly special events we would not want to give up for various reasons, it would be an interesting exercise to make note of how many requests are made of us on any given Sunday morning. Do we feel rested and revived in the Lord when coming to church or do we feel overwhelmed?

I would venture to say it is somewhat seasonal based on individuals and what is happening in their lives. Sometimes we are energized by all the activity; sometimes it discourages us.

Maybe we could find a way to alternate roles based on our seasons. When we are on top of things and feeling empowered we could serve more, and when life is difficult to balance we could be given a guilt-free sabbatical from our church roles — but not attendance.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Facing the fact we do have limits

margin

The books needed a purpose again. They had been boxed up for too many months and either needed to find residence on a shelf in my office or find a new owner. They weren’t doing anyone any good hidden away from the world.

I don’t remember what motivated me that particular day to clean out my books and slice open the tape on the box, but that’s what I did. I organized the books by categories and determined to start reading through them one at a time, then pass them along to others.

But where to start?

I settled on the leadership category, the discipleship category and the relationship category — all areas that continuously need polishing in my life.

As I glanced over the titles, my eyes noticed a handful of books focused on balancing life and creating margin.

Margin — the space between ourselves and our limits.

I remember understanding that word for the first time about 10 years ago when a colleague pointed out I had none. He wasn’t the first nor the last to note this about me, but he was the first I remember using this particular word.

I didn’t really worry about it at the time, but life — as life tends to do — exposed my true deficit of margin and recently I’ve landed in a season where margin is vital.

Toothpick world

When we leave no space in the area between ourselves and our limits, then every day can feel like it is out of control and the more we try to gain control of our lives, the more we lose the battle.

And don’t even get me started on how the toothpick world in which we live comes crumbling down the minute one thing doesn’t line up in order.

As I reflected on my personal battle with margin that day, I focused on the titles trying to decide which book to pull off the shelf.

When I saw one simply titled “Margin,” that seemed like the best place to start. I pulled it out of the lineup, laid it on top of the other books and within minutes forgot about it.

Reading, learning

But that book wouldn’t be invisible for long.

A few weeks later in a conversation with a group of friends attempting to navigate their own margin struggles, at least three people suggested I read Richard A. Swenson’s book, “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.”

I made a note to get the book and even started looking up where to buy it when it hit me — there was a book with the title “Margin” already pulled out on my shelf ready to read. Sure enough, it was the same book.

And when I thought through why I had the book but had never read it before, I realized I had actually purchased the book in the mid-1990s right out of college.

I don’t remember exactly why I purchased it, but it made me realize that despite many years of ignoring the need for margin my quest for it has been a 20-year journey.

Oblivious to issue

Swenson says most people don’t realize their need for margin nor the fact they have eliminated it in their lives. We are working through pain, overload, stress and frustration, not realizing we are furthering the difficulties the longer we fail to create space. And we are hurting our relationships to self, others and God in the process.

Problems one at a time are perhaps manageable, he says, but “they just won’t stand in line. Instead they grow from problem pile into problem mountain and then all fall on us at the same time.”

Jennifer Davis Rash