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Slowing Down to Lead with Integrity pt. 2

Slowing Down to Lead with Integrity pt. 2

Giving Yourself Permission to Slow

Many of us struggle to let ourselves slow down.

For many of us recognizing our limits can be fairly easy.  However, if you’re anything like me, actually giving yourself permission to slow or live within those limits is another story.  Too often I find myself recognizing my limits and even calling others to live within their limits, while at the same time not giving myself permission to actually slow.

Wayne Muller in his book on Sabbath tells the following story about a long time friend named Marilyn.

“My friend Marilyn is a devoted massage therapist.  She is very kind and works very hard.  She serves in the poorest sections of San Francisco, offering her services for free to those in most need.  In seedy residential hotels, where there     are people dying of AIDS or suffering with tuberculosis, she goes from the room of one sick person to another, massaging, rubbing the salve of good care into their isolated dying bodies.

When Marilyn and I talk on the phone, she often sounds exhausted.  I invite her to spend a day on the beach.  She says she can’t.  She has too much work, too many people to meet, too many things to do.  She is almost weeping, such is her need to rest, but she has no inner permission to stop working, even for an afternoon.

Marilyn cares for others with great conviction, but she does not care for herself with the same conviction.  She feels her time at rest will somehow take away from those in need, those whom she truly loves and hopes to serve.  She assures me she is all right, and in many ways I know that she is, but if she does not rest, how soon will she burn out, and who will care for those who need her then?”

Jesus withdraws, Jesus slows down, Jesus says, “No.”

Jesus, himself, had rhythms, recognized limitations, and kept boundaries in His ministry.   Even though he could have healed everyone, He chose not to.  In Mark 1:29-39 we see the story of Jesus healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law.  After her healing, news spread quickly through the Galilean countryside.  All who were ill, sick, and demon possessed were being brought to Him.  After a long day of ministry, pouring Himself out for those in need, Jesus rose early the next morning to withdraw alone to a secluded place.

That morning the line of broken, oppressed, needy people grew long and Peter hunted for Jesus to pick up the work again. When he found Him, Peter confronted Him to come back and finish healing all those who have need. Jesus simply replied, “Let’s go somewhere else to a nearby town in order that I can preach there as well.”

Jesus was alright leaving certain tasks undone.  For every person to whom Jesus restored sight, nine more remained in darkness.  For every person Jesus healed with withered limbs, nine more remained handicapped.  For every prostitute Jesus set free, many more were still trapped in their trade.  Yet Jesus was alright saying that His work here was complete.

Jesus did not address every need in his ministry. Jesus withdrew from the crowds to find restoration and rest in solitude and silence. Jesus lived within limits even when others expectations extended far beyond.

Why is it we don’t give ourselves this same permission?

As I’ve studied this issue and thought through my own experience, I’ve noticed some dangerous assumptions that we sometimes make which push us beyond our limits or fail to give ourselves permission.

1. We’re trapped by what others think of us.

Nothing is more toxic to the soul than creating an identity based off of what others think.  Our overwhelming desire to please others can often cause us to say, “Yes” to unhealthy demands.  In the end, we promise all kinds of things to all kinds of people, feel overwhelmed by all of the spinning plates we’re not forced to keep spinning, and fear the inevitable crash.

2. We’re afraid of the silence.

When we give ourselves permission to slow, we begin to create space.  It is in this space that we often come face to face with ourselves and with God.  For some of us, we’re afraid of what we might encounter.  It is unnerving to be alone, so rather than face ourselves or God, we keep running.

3. We feel as if we’re stealing from the poor.

Another dangerous myth we entertain is this: We believe that our joy and delight will somehow steal from another, only adding to their suffering.  We perhaps feel guilty about feeling good, as if service to others should always be a painful or dreary exercise. Because we’ve been called to suffer for Christ, the resulting pain from our unhealthiness is part of our calling.

4. We’re trying to live up to great expectations.

For anyone working or serving in ministry, it’s easy to see how the endless expectations can be all-consuming, and those who you care for can also be some of your worst critics.  The demands and expectations of your organization can be a powerful force in not allowing yourself permission to slow. You may even come to the realization that fulfilling all of the expectations of your current role and preserving your own spiritual health are two mutually exclusive paths.

5. We’re convinced, “If I don’t do it no one will.”

Many of us have heard the passage, “the fields are plentiful but the workers are few” as a call to grab up our scythe and get busy harvesting.   Too often, however, we take on things that were never meant to be ours, we call things “harvesting” that God never intended. We call our business the work of God, and our mindset becomes “If I don’t who will?”  In a subtle sense, we make even start to adopt the mindset, “I can’t say, ‘no’ because God needs me to do this.”

I will give you rest.

As you think through your current pace of life, are you living within healthy limits or have you inadvertently bought into one of these assumptions?  Have you gotten caught up in the busyness of ministry that you’ve refused to give yourself rest?  Which of the above categories do you resonate with?

Consider the words of Jesus for a moment, as if they applied to you as a youth worker as much as you want it to apply to your students.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

Remember, there is no external person, task, or work place that can force you to be unhealthy.  The decision is yours.  The choice to ramp up or say, “No” is only yours to make.

If you’d like to read part 1 of this series which focused on “identifying our limits” click here.
Next week, we’ll wrap up the series this three part series, in the meantime we’d love to hear your thoughts. Click here to read part 3.
Rick Rhoads
Professor of Student Min at Lancaster Bible College
Rick is the Director of the Student Ministry Majors at Lancaster Bible College. He has served as an Assistant Professor in Student Ministry at LBC for the past 7 years. Over the past 18 years, he has served in various Student Ministry roles at Lebanon Valley YFC, LCBC, Calvary Bible Church, and Riverbend Community Church. Rick, his wife Naomi, and their two children Grace and Eli live East Petersburg, PA.