My husband and I are planting a church in the city where we live and we have 4 young children. Most of our days and nights are filled with meeting with neighbors, having people over for dinner, and mentoring young adults walking out of poverty. Our house is always on the brink of entropy and sometimes just maintaining equilibrium with laundry and dishes takes up all my energy. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to continue to serve the church, serve the neighborhood, and serve my family when I’m completely overwhelmed with life.
Over the past two years, we walked with two people dying of cancer: my close friend who was also a church planter’s wife and my mom. In addition to the responsibilities of church planting, we were in the trenches watching our friend and mom die. It felt at times like life was just too much. I would often look at my husband and say, “Can we just sell our house and move to Mexico and put our heads in the sand?” We are still dealing with the aftermath of losing both and learning how to navigate around the landmines of grief. It is a hard, hard road to navigate while still trying to pour your life out to other people….what happens when there is nothing left to pour out?
You might not be dealing with death and loss, church planting, and four kids but you probably have your own set of circumstances that makes life feel like too much. Just the effects of the fall can make regular life seem like too much, right?
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned in how to serve when life is overwhelming:
Take a deep breath, Jesus is with you. Sometimes we just need to take a deep breath and remember that Jesus is still on His throne and everything will ultimately be okay, even when it feels like it really really isn’t. Spending time with Jesus is the key to drawing strength outside of yourself for the task of loving others. Burning out or resentment can come easily if serving comes from our own strength rather than God’s.
Take time for yourself. It seems counter-intuitive to talk about getting alone time when talking about serving others. But here’s the thing, we all know we aren’t any good when are tank is empty. That’s true of ministry, parenting, and everything else. I once had a counselor tell me I should be taking at least a 4 hour block of time for myself each week. I laughed at him! Who has 4 hours?! I almost never take this advice but when I do I can tell a big difference in my level of patience and grace and my desire to jump in to serve. Even two hours a week to myself can make a lot of difference in my outlook on life. Reading, journaling, praying, exercising, hobbies, or just sitting and staring out a window in a coffee shop can really fill our souls.
If you’re married, keep it first. For all the women in ministry out there who are juggling so many hats, date nights can get pushed to the side. Keep dating, go on walks together, or read a book together at night. When my friend was dying and my mother’s cancer was worsening, I was overwhelmed with deep sadness much of the time. On Mondays, my husband has the day off, so we drop our kids at school and head to the mountains to hike or snowshoe. Spending that time together each week was a huge game changer in our marriage and in my ability to make it through the past two years. Exercising, being in nature, and connecting with my husband was something that kept my love tank full. Whatever a date looks like for you, keep talking and keep pursuing each other.
Ask the Lord each week who to love. As a pastor’s wife I sometimes feel like there are so many needs in our little community that I want to throw up my hands. I have to remember that God is in control and he will care for His people. Each week when I feel overwhelmed I ask the Lord who to love that week. He always brings people to mind and gives me ways to love them. It reminds me that it’s His job to grow the church, I am just His hands and feet. He is glad to show me whom to love. I am not able to love and care for everyone in our midst but knowing the Lord brought them to mind takes the guilt out of not being able to care for everyone’s needs.
Sometimes you have to just say no. There have been a few times when my only capacity is to love and care for my family. My bandwidth can go no further sometimes. It’s during those times when I know I have to hunker down, recenter our family, slow down, and just put one foot in front of the other. Those times are perfectly fine and I have to remind myself of that. Loving only my husband and my kids is still Kingdom work.
Serving and giving of ourselves is hard but sacred work. When we are overwhelmed it can feel like there is nothing left to give. Finding a balance and rhythm is essential to sustainable ministry. What have you found that works for you?
Sharon Morginsky is a mom of four young kids and a church planters wife in a very diverse and transitional part of the city of Denver (Grace and Peace Denver). She has her Masters in Social Work and has a deep passion for racial reconciliation and healing of economic disparity. In her free time she enjoys being a doula, gardening, hiking, writing, and is currently learning how to play the ukulele.