One morning this week while I was riding the train into work I started to think about the battle of “works versus grace.” I thought about the idea of good work ethic, and then I thought about the problem of over-working and over-committing to projects. I thought about a time in my life where I said “yes” to every project ever asked of me, and I felt overwhelmed, burned out, and confused about ministry and my calling. I did not know how to say “no” in a healthy way. I was always in projects up to my ears, and I never really finished and completed them well. I was “multi-tasking,” and failing miserably. I was using the excuse of “church-work” to mask my addiction to “over-working.” I had convinced myself this was all about good work ethic instead of the reality. I did not understand “God’s rest.” I did not understand the command for “Sabbath.”
When I think about works versus grace, I always try to think about the motive behind a work. A professor of mine was once told our class a person always gets something from the things they do. In ministry and leadership, I believe this is true. When leaders help people and do good works, they get a sense of fulfillment and happiness from their work. This is good. We should feel good about the work we do, but we cannot allow this to become an addiction. I do not want to get “high” from working, working, and more working.
I think people should feel good when they do good works for people, but this can not be at the core of reasoning for why a leader is in ministry. If a leader only does good works to feel good about themself, then the core of their “helping ministry” comes more from self-centeredness than it does from God-centeredness. I like how Paul asks the question in Galatians 1:10 about seeking the approval of people as opposed to seeking the approval of God, and makes the point if he seeks the approval of people he is not pleasing God. A lot of people want the approval of their leaders, and a lot of leaders want the approval of the people they serve. Unfortunately, leaders can often become the slaves of those they serve, because they can never live up to the unrealistic expectations of some people.
Growing up I lived in somewhat of a chaotic situation. I remember many times when I felt like I was walking on egg shells, and I needed to say just the right thing or do just the right thing in order for the whole house not to fall and collapse. It was a sort of survival mentality. I remember waking up in the morning after a real family feud, and the house was calm with an uneasy silence. It was not a feeling of resolution, but rather a feeling of cover-up. Brush it all under the rug, forget about it, and we will all pretend like it never happened. It was terrible, because I never learned how to process my feelings in the moment. I learned how to survive because I had to survive, but I was missing the opportunity to feel the realness of suffering and brokeneness. Instead, I dreamed my way into a different story. I consumed myself with work and achievement. I became addicted to what I thought was “success.” In a way I was saying, “Look at me everyone, I am not broken and hurt. I am not that person. I am strong. I am success. I am not who I am. I am someone else.” And many saw the mask and thought it was real. Others saw right through it. But I had convinced myself I was someone else, and there was no turning back.
I wonder if this is how some leaders feel when the people they serve put unrealistic expectations on them. People expect them to be super holy, and super heroes of the faith. Leaders are not supposed to mess up or have moments where their faith is challenged. But this is not true. Leaders do mess up. Leaders do have moments where they have doubts, and their faith seems crushed. Leaders are people just like anyone else. Leaders have feelings, both women and men.
At some point during the past five years I came to some of these conclusions. I realized it was “Me and Works” Versus “God.” I was working and working and working, and God was somewhere else. I truly believed it was for God and with God, but the work was coming in-between God and I. It was tearing me apart, because I was a “junky” for work. And I was good at work, and people knew it, so this made it worse. I wanted to be busy all the time, and of course people wanted me to be busy all the time because I was willing to do the work. I was willing to work myself to death. I never wanted to have time to think about all the healing work God wanted to do. I did not want to live in the silence. I did not want to stop, and God kept stopping me. And then God stopped me… I moved away from my home, family, and friends. I started a journey of healing. I did not know where God was taking me. I did not even know I was wearing a mask. And then one day, God said, “take the mask off. Be real. Stop, Just Be.”
“God, I have to work.”
“No, Crystal, you do not have to work. You just have to Be.”
“But, God I want to work. I want to do all these things. God you have given me these dreams. I thought you wanted me to…”
“Crystal, you just have to Be. Just Be with Me.”
And then there was a silence and a pause. And for the first time I realized, God did not love me because I worked my brain off. God did not love me because I could argue and prove a point. God did not love me for the “work.” God loved me because I was “Me.” It was in the “being,” the very ontology of existence. It was not for the commercialistic “do.” It was simply and most complexly because I am Me. And that is the core of it friends.
Now I must daily remind myself, it is not about “doing” only, it is about “being.” It is about “being” in relationship with God. It is about talking with God, and getting rid of the noise and the busyness. It is about surrendering the mask of “over-working” to God, and finding rest in God. In the end, I want to hear God say “good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21), not “depart from me, I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23). Yes, we must work, but if we work and never be, what a sad story. Help us to know we are more valuable to God than all the work we can do. Work should be an opportunity, not slavery.