When the Show Must Not Go On

canceledHaving witnessed and experienced a great deal over my lifetime in parachurch ministry, I have come to the conclusion that the most important question we can ask ourselves in ministry work is this: Why am I doing what I am doing and at what cost to my health, spiritually and otherwise,  and the most important people in my life?

Those who are single must also ask these questions, but those who choose to create families and then go out and work in additional ministry are the ones who need to ask this question frequently and allow themselves to give honest answers.

There is a wrong-headed view that we are ultimately responsible for carrying forward God’s work. While it is true God works through humans, I don’t believe that abandoning our first responsibilities to our families to reach strangers is OK with God. The human toll on families can be horrific.  Ask some of the children of foreign missionaries who were left at boarding schools most of the year to be raised by strangers how that worked out for them, as some of the tragic stories have made recent headlines. God didn’t give you children to outsource their upbringing to hirelings so you could minister to others. He didn’t give you a spouse for you to be AWOL. The unreached tribes are not more important than your own children. The unreached of America are not more important than your own families. No, they are not.

A mindless obsession with busyness for Jesus ends up being counterproductive. Ministries that insist on growth at the expense of the humans running the machine will ultimately crash or at the very least, lose what impact they might have had. Also, the business that creates the busyness often becomes the subconscious focus. Keeping the gears turning becomes more interesting and compelling than the spiritual and physical realities on staff. Workaholism (even when called ‘sacrifice for Jesus’) creates burnout, burnout can maim and kill, literally and metaphorically.

A friend of mine who lived nearly exclusively for his work ended his own life last fall. He did great work, and he did it all hours of the day and night, but in the end, he died by his own hand, the same way his non-Christian brother had. It is a tragedy I am still getting over. Every life needs balance. Without even a little counterbalance to work, we are doomed.

God never calls us to do personal kamikazes for Jesus on the deck of ministry. If we’re personally self-destructing to keep gears moving in ministry, we are doing more than we are called to do. If we are imploding because of someone else’s vision and wrong priorities, we are called to say no. A sanctified, holy, NO.

God is gracious and merciful. He frequently allows wake-up calls. He allowed me a wake-up call, thankfully.  But the sobering reality is that the damage to spiritual lives, physical lives, and relationships is sometimes not easily repaired. It can be permanent and life-altering.

The “show” must not go on as usual when it is harming others. That is not the work of God. That is the work of flesh and it will fail. No person, single or married, can withstand years of burnout and be OK. Those with family responsibilities have their first calling, and any job that requires more than a decent work schedule is asking you to go out of God’s parameters in terms of priorities. Any leader or leadership structure that requires or allows you to go outside a work schedule that respects your spiritual and physical and family needs is outside of God’s parameters. Idolatry of someone in ministry doesn’t end well. And when we listen to someone else’s voice over the loving voice of our Shepherd, we are asking for trouble.

There are still birds singing, flowers growing, blue skies and love in this world, and how easily we forget that in the race. We are also doing God’s work by loving and laughing and caring for those in our families first. Everything else must come a distant second in our hearts and thinking. The payoff for right priorities is without price.  And the price for wrong priorities is too high.

Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. ~ Mark 6:31

Friends and Neighbors Are Good for Your Health

I came across an interesting article from Canada about the health-enhancing benefits of having good friends and social interaction.

“Those surrounded by a tight-knit group of friends who regularly gather to eat—and, crucially, gossip—live an average of 15 years longer than loners.  Quality face-to-face contact is essential for a social species, writes psychologist Susan Pinker, citing research that shows it fortifies immune systems, calibrates hormones and increases chances of surviving heart attacks, strokes, AIDS and cancer. 

“People with the most integrated social lives—overlapping relationships among friends, family, sports and other recreational or religious pursuits—have the best prognoses,” with the most life-threatening diseases.

It’s true even with dementia: A 2004 Swedish study found its lowest prevalence among those with the most extensive social networks.” (See full article here.)

amySadly, as the article points out, knowing and interacting with those closest to us is fading due to many factors in our society. The good news is that we can do something about that. It’s never too late to get to know your neighbors and carve out time for friends. I don’t enjoy large groups of people, but love to have coffee with friends one on one. These are the best kind of social networks, the ones where there are real faces across the table. I’m spending time that way more and more these days, and I love it! The side benefit is that it really is good for my health. (That’s me and Amy Spreeman of Stand Up for the Truth Radio, a recent coffee partner.)

Walk On!

Last Valentine’s Day, Tom gave me a gift in a box. I opened it to find a pair of walking shoes that were incredibly light. They were so light that I doubted they would hold up very well. I decided to try them out.

This summer, I have made good use of my gift. I’ve been walking quite a bit. After our long, cold winter, I vowed last spring to make the summer count. So far, so good on my goal! The shoes are fantastic. You don’t need socks – they don’t have laces, GoWalkand they feel like nothing on your feet. In case anyone is interested they are called Skechers GoWalk or GoWalk2. I bought another pair I liked them so much. (This is not a paid ad!)

I walk a course in our neighborhood as many days a week as I can. Initially, I thought I was walking about a mile and a half, but after Tom checked it, it turns out that is was nearly a total of four miles I was walking. I was surprised and pleased at my efforts and after five pounds dropped off, I was even more pleased.

Walking outside has to be one of the biggest helps there is. Mental clarity, a positive mood and the better eating that follows (who wants to squander the effort by eating junk after walking?) make it a winning situation all around.

Emily has accompanied me almost every mile. She runs on ahead and then falls back to talk about everything she sees. She can identify oak trees, maples and birch trees, hydrangeas, roses, black-eyed susans and petunias, and Queen Anne’s Lace, etc. It makes the walk go faster with her commentary.

Doctors used to prescribe nature as a treatment for those who were ill or stressed. It’s coming back into fashion again according to this article at Slate.com, as well it should be. The more advanced technology we get, the more isolated and unnatural our lives become. Worse, technology can invade even walks in nature, undoing many of the advantages. I see people with ear buds in while running or walking. They’re missing an entire symphony of sounds. They are distracting their minds from appreciating even the smells and sights and fresh air which does us all good.

walkingMy only challenge is the long cold winter in this state. There’s no choice in Wisconsin about walking outside a lot of times when the temperature plummets and there is snow and ice. Mall walking or a gym membership is the only solution to keep walking. I hate walking in gyms. The laps around the track seem endless. That’s when it doesn’t hurt to have music or something in your ears as you walk along, at least when you don’t need some quiet for praying or thinking.

One way or another, I hope to keep moving. I’ve written on this before, but I once again have enjoyed the benefits of committed walking, and think that a lot of our ailments in this country could be helped or reduced if we all got out and walked it away!


(Making sure a walking plan is OK for your health is worth a check with the doctor if you have health issues.)



Lisa’s Running the Race

Lisa taking 1st place in her age division in the Tempe, Arizona, Iron Girl 1/2 Marathon. She took 12th out of 880 women.

Lisa taking 1st place in her age division in the Tempe, Arizona, Iron Girl Ten Miler. She took 12th out of 880 women.

My sister Lisa is always on the run, literally. Not only is she the mother of 4 children who range in age from 10-15, she’s a long distance runner, a personal trainer, college cross country coach, Bible study leader and wife to a wonderful man named Russ. I didn’t mention that she has also written some beautiful choir and solo music in her spare time. I talked to Lisa recently about her interest in personal training and why she continues to run competitively. She said this:

“I love training people to run for a number of reasons – it gives me a great chance to build relationships, and as the Lord allows opportunity, to correlate the physical with the spiritual in conversation. I also work with a number of Christians which brings lots of great communication about caring for the temple God chooses to inhabit by His Holy Spirit.
So often I see Christians allowing themselves to indulge in careless or even obsessive eating habits and ignoring exercise, claiming that we should simply concentrate on “the spiritual”. We have been created as spiritual beings – yes – however that spirit dwells within a mortal frame that, unless cared for, will become unhealthy. If our bodies are in poor health and uncared for, how can we possibly serve the Lord with “all our strength”?

Simple scientific evidence has proven over and over the importance of exercise in promoting a healthy body and mind. Yet so often Christians avoid the issue for fear that keeping themselves fit may appear “carnal”.  Self control is a fruit of the spirit that can and must manifest itself in every arena of our lives, including the physical. Exercise is one of the wonderfully natural ways of maintaining health and gaining energy with which to serve our King.”

I asked her about the Bible study that she teaches and why she adds that to her already busy life.

“As I teach the Bible Study each week, I find nothing more fulfilling than encouraging my friends spiritually with the Word of God. There is surely no gain in having a “fit” body, and a spiritual life that is weak and falling apart. Our bodies will perish, but our spirits are eternal. My walk with my Lord MUST be my highest priority. Then, I must be careful to be a good steward of the body He has created for me – to keep it, as best I am able, fit to serve Him!”

After crossing the finish line...

After crossing the finish line...

Lisa runs40-45 miles a week and is running her first marathon in October. Her “normal” runs are 10 milers or 1/2 marathons. She generally finishes in the top 1-2% of women and in the top 3 in her age division, 35-39.

Lisa and I used to play tennis before school when we were teenagers, and I used to run with her when I graduated from high school. That was the extent of my athletic pursuits. She was always the powerhouse. Her strong arm would send the balls to kingdom come. I don’t think we ever did find some of those tennis balls!

Having a personal trainer for a sister comes in very handy. She set me up with some great exercises and actually has me using small weights and things to get me stronger. (I’m talking little weights here, not barbells, ha!)

I prefer walking, and this summer, I got serious about it. I like to do it twice a day, once in the morning and once when Tom comes home. It’s therapeutic, to say the least. It’s head clearing, calorie burning quiet time to sort out your day, pray or just think. It’s an antidote to depression and malaise like nothing else. So if you’re needing to get moving, I challenge you to do it. As we take care of ourselves physically, we are able to serve the Lord better and have more energy to serve those we love.