If, as my mother is fond of saying, your greatest strength is your greatest weakness, mine is fairly classically American: My vision is grand, and I’ve got a lot of energy and efficiency. (If you identify with this, Dave Harvey’s book Rescuing Ambition
has a lot of great thoughts about what God can do through our big dreams!)
Add to this my passionate spiritual drive to Make a Difference and my geographical location teeming with need, and…I tend to chronically struggle with overcommitment. Not the kind where you’re committing to things you can’t do; more the kind where you’re running around with your arms pinwheeling and your hair on fire. Or your knuckles graze the ground in fatigue in the evenings. Historically this has found me at various levels of holistic burnout.
Slowly God’s been peeling back other layers of this well-meaning habit’s effect on my family—even though a lot of my commitments are even for their sake, really trying to love them well. This crested last year, when my husband and I were on the path to adopting our fifth. As I wrote in this post, we wanted to live a God-sized life. Not a stupid life, of course (!). But one that could only be explained by Him; one that left us trusting not in what we could handle, but in the size of our God and His dreams for us.
Yet as we walked through those doors—prayerfully, carefully—it became apparent to my husband (took me a little longer) that we were consistently limited on time, resources, and energy. And a fifth child, however heroic and meaningful and gospel-centered that ministry would be—and is for so many families!—living life to the limits of our margin could have untold effects on our home. So the act of faith we chose was, instead, that God had this plan for some other blessed family.
Yeah, it’s easy to look at the fun or unnecessary aspects of our life and think, I could just do less of that if I took on this one wonderful thing. And maybe you’re the kind of person who could! But in my own life, when I’m honest, that’s not where the toll is subtracted from. It’s subtracted from my sunny mood with my kids, my graciousness, my diligence and vigilance in their lives, my energy to love on friends or my husband. It means that I win less of my children’s hearts, which is critical when it comes to gaining passport into their lives (this related blog post on intentional Christian parents’ blindspots is highly recommended, and helped me understand this concept).
Basically, it means that I love less well and with less joy.
My husband, quite gently and with much wisdom and compassion, put it this way: “I want you to know that sometimes your overcommitment affects how the Gospel is played out in our home.”
Ouch. But Yep. It’s a version of Luke 9:25: For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
Matt Perman, author of the crackerjack new book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done, aptly conveys,
Efficiency exists so that you can serve others better, not sacrifice them to efficiency. ….True productivity is not first about efficiency–doing things right and doing them quickly–but effectiveness–doing the right things. (p. 49)
And I love this:
It is easy to unwittingly fall into the trap of basing our day-to-day peace of mind on our productivity…This is a law-based approach to the Christian life. Instead, we are to act from peace, not for peace. Ultimate peace of mind comes through faith… (p. 122, boldface added)
Truth is, overcommitment also erodes a rich inner life, walking with God (and simply listening rather than always talking or learning in my personal times with Him). You’ve probably experienced that when you go on vacation, it takes a few days to unwind before you can really enjoy the vacation. For me, time with God can be like that. It’s not “Here’s your thirty minutes, Lord. Now go! Talk to me!” I need time to listen, converse, think. And this time is when He feeds my soul. It allows me something nourishing to give others, rather than the love-equivalent of microwaving my leftovers for them.
Having enough time to love well generally means loving not just broadly, but deeply. Hurry, even when it is thorough, can rob me–and my relationships–of so much joy in each other, and a lot more.
I don’t want to let my schedule, my efficiency, steal some of Christ being worked out in my home.
So–I’d love your comments on this. Can I hear your thoughts on overcommitment?