“Are you okay? You look tired.” My husband leaned forward with a concerned look on his face.
I didn’t know how to answer.
“Yes, I’m fine. Sort of. It’s just…a lot. I have to plan the rota, record the register and plan for the July age. Then I have that budget meeting that I have to prep for, and the email to parents I have to do…”
My voice trailed off.
I could talk for the next half hour, just listing the things I still had to do.
It felt like a mountain I could never climb. My brain knew the amount of work wasn’t impossible or unreasonable, yet I felt buried by the relentless pressure and sheer volume of it all.
I was beginning to resent the work I had to do. Something needed to change, or else I would lose all sense of joy in my calling or walk away entirely.
I am not alone in this. Elijah knew that feeling. Jonah and Jeremiah knew it too. It can be a disorienting place of struggle.
I think everyone’s pathway through the struggle will be different, but for me, it came down to two things.
My language needed to change, as did my burden of control.
“I began to realise that almost every sentence I spoke about my job started with ‘I have to’.”
Changing my heart from “I have to” to “I get to”
I began to realise that almost every sentence I spoke about my job started with “I have to”: “I have to go to a meeting with a parent, and then I have to input the new kid information into ChurchSuite.”
With that phrase, I was repeatedly telling myself that I was buried under obligations and tasks that I was forced to accomplish with no choice or way out.
God began to challenge me to see it all differently. Instead of: “I have to go to a meeting with a parent”, I needed to change my heart to say: “I get to go connect with a parent and see what God is doing in their family and how I can help.” “I have to do computer admin” turns into “I get to pray over the new young people that God brought in this past week”.
Doing our role is a privilege. We get to see God at work, close up in people’s lives. We get to be a part of what God is doing in a community. When I position my heart to think: “I get to”, my heart becomes humble.
I feel the blessing of being chosen to serve alongside the God of the universe to reach and love the small and struggling.
“I get to” was a revolution for how I saw myself and my role and began to bring back the lightness of what I was asked to do daily.
The disciples got to do ministry side-by-side with Jesus, and so do I. When I say: “I have to”, I see all the hard work ahead of me.
When I say: “I get to”, I see the immense privilege of being a small part of God’s great plans and feel the joy of gratefulness and purposefulness in my everyday work.
Where am I creating problems for myself?
In Exodus 18, we read that Moses was working flat out, responding to his people’s demands from morning to night.
His father-in-law was concerned and asked him: “Why are you doing all this?”
Moses’ response makes me laugh because I have said it in ministry many times.
Moses said: “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will” (v15). In other words: “Because they keep coming and asking me to! It’s my job to hold all of this. I have to.”
Jethro doesn’t buy it. He responds: “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out” (v17).
He then laid out a plan for an alternative way to get things done and finished with this assurance: “If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied” (v23).
Jethro observed that Moses had created a bad situation for himself. The role wasn’t the problem.
The job description wasn’t the problem. Moses’ approach was the problem.
I realised that my exhaustion and resentment were sometimes rooted in how I had made myself the bottleneck for anyone to get things done.
Emails had to come through me, rotas had to come through me, I was the only one with answers to questions.
It made me feel in control and that I was fulfilling the calling of leadership. But it wasn’t good for me or those who I was leading.
The solution wasn’t to do less but to create a new way of doing things.
Pathways for rotas to get sent around without seeing them, people to make decisions about their budgets without me having to purchase them, and co-leaders for every situation so others could answer questions.
I also realised that sometimes my standards were driving my workload. I liked things done a particular way, so I held myself and others to a standard that created more work for myself.
I had to face the nagging suspicion that my pride was creating work for me that was then sapping the joy out of what I was called to do. I had to look at how I did everything and decide what God was asking me to do and what was me inventing ways of working that tied me down.
All of this is found in connection with God. If you find this season one of exhaustion, repetition and joylessness, pause for a moment with God.
Lock yourself in your bathroom for a conversation with him or go for a walk.
Tell God how you feel. Invite God to show you any places where you are working in a way that is unhelpful for you.
Ask him to show you where in your mind, heart or language you see your ministry in a way that traps you in resentment rather than joy.
It is not an easy conversation to have with God. Prepare to learn some sincere things about yourself.
But on the other end is a restored joy and lightness to the role God has you in. It is worth it.