Last time this summer our lives were crazy. David was working around-the-clock to raise funds and prepare for the church plant launch in September. The Sound Panel Project of 2013 was beginning. And oh yeah, and we were buying a house (what!?! we moved during last summer? who thought that was a good idea!?).
I know the church hasn’t even been meeting a full year — September 8th is when we began worship services — but in my mind summer, 2013 is really when it started. Though we’d been meeting as a core group all spring, summer is when our lives started careening full-force ahead toward this thing that was about to be birthed. Summer is when it got real.
I’m thinking back on the person I was this time last year and what I’ve learned from it all.
The most important lesson I’ve learned this year is that I am in charge of my own well-being.
Sounds kinda obvious, right?
Well, to me it wasn’t. I wrestled a whole lot last summer and fall with learning my place in a church plant, with expectations (mine and others’), with settling back into my hometown, with exhaustion, with trying to hang out with too many friends, with being married to a husband who is, shall we say, high energy.
My PCA mentor would tell me I was struggling with boundaries. And she was exactly right. So this year I’ve had to be a learner. I’ve had to sit through phone conversations and listen to the truth she speaks boldly into my life. I’ve had to talk with David and to ask for accountability.
I’ve had to learn that I and I alone am responsible for my well being.
Can I just tell you what a life changing lesson this is?
I’ve always struggled with being a victim. Feeling perpetually stressed, feeling like I never get enough rest. Feeling like I can’t possibly do everything. Feeling like David is pulling me along on this wild ride and I’m just hanging on for dear life.
I’ve blogged about this before. Because I didn’t have boundaries, I’d push myself to the limit, have too-high expectations of family vacations and afternoons out, and be eternally disappointed (and pretty miserable for my family to be around).
David said one day, “It’s so hard when I rearrange my schedule to give you an afternoon out alone, but you come back and you’re not rested.” That was hard to hear. But he was right.
The biggest revelation of this year is: That is my fault. Not David’s fault. Not the church plant’s fault. Not my kids’ fault.
I’m responsible for my own well-being. I’m not a victim to anyone.
This has been fleshed out in so many areas of my life. And the more I practice taking responsibility for my well-being, the happier I become.
A couple people have walked with me all year and helped me make my life simple and small. By that, I just mean, they’ve challenged me to realize I can’t do it all nor should I, and to thoughtfully decide what my priorities are in this season — what are the few things I want to focus on, and how do I let everything else go? And I mean everything. else.
Yes, it’s been a struggle. Did you know I really care about my image? Did you know I super-care about not disappointing people? Did you know I want to be a great friend and an awesome pastor’s wife? Did you know I want to be capable and successful?
When I write it out like that I see how much that paragraph was driving my daily choices rather than my passions and priorities. Living your life so that you look capable and try to disappoint as few people as possible is pretty exhausting.
Reading the book Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being has totally changed my perspective of ministry. Zack Eswine points out that not only are we not created to “do it all” but we’re actually sinning when we try to. We’re becoming “god-like.” We’re building our own reputation and kingdom rather than humbly accepting our limits, accepting that we’re a very small part of a larger story.
One of my goals for the relationships in my life — and especially at Columbia Pres — is that people would see that God is their Shepherd, not me. I’m learning that if that’s my heart’s desire, I simply can’t meet every need. I have to have boundaries. I have to say “no” sometimes. I have to not pursue sometimes. I have to not carry out every great idea I have.
Otherwise I’m teaching the exact opposite of what I want. Otherwise people begin to admire me and depend on me. They aren’t pushed to see Jesus as their Shepherd and the way He uses many different means to provide for them, even when I can’t. I have to be at peace with that instead of endlessly apologizing and making excuses.
I’m learning to pause and consider before I say “yes” to something or plan something. Saying “yes” to one thing always means I’m saying “no” to something else. Am I willing to do that? What are my priorities?
Learning to take responsibility for my own well-being has helped my marriage tremendously. Suddenly I’m not blaming David and my kids or other circumstances when I’m stressed and tired. I’m stopping, evaluating my pace, asking, “What needs to change and how do I change it?”
I’ve learned this year that David and I have different capacities for work: and the most surprising thing is discovering that if I have boundaries in my own life, his busyness really doesn’t stress me out. And he in turn is learning to set boundaries for himself so that he’s rested and energized when we’re together. We aren’t depending on each other for well-being.
One practical way this works is I’ve learned to communicate better when I’m frustrated: instead of venting and crying, I tell David what’s wrong and what I need. Example: “I really need a break from the kids right now, when you get home from work can you take them out to Chick-Fil-A so I can have a couple hours to myself?” It feels so presumptuous, but 10 times out of 10 he’s thrilled to be able to help me. Sometimes he can’t fulfill the exact request, but he’s quick to offer an alternative.
And sometimes taking a break from my kids is just what I need in order to love them better. Taking time to pursue my own personal hobbies and have time alone is just what I need in order to love my church better. Taking a night out for yogurt with a girl friend is just what I need in order to be refreshed and love my husband better.
The flip side is that if I really love the people close to me, I set boundaries in order to make them a priority. How is it loving David, Judah, and Amelie for me to be stretched to the limit doing ministry and pleasing everyone around me, and then cranky or checked out when I’m home with them? How is it loving if my mood rises or falls on whether I’ve disappointed someone?
I’m still very much in this process. I mess up. I have to repent and receive grace and evaluate my next week. But it’s a process I’m committed to because I’ve seen so much fruit already — in my own sanity and enjoyment of life, and in my relationships.
I’m sure people are disappointed with me sometimes, but what’s most surprising is when someone stops and thank me for having a boundary, saying that they noticed and that it makes them feel free to set boundaries too.
It’s an irony that makes me laugh that my legacy to our church could be, “Julie doesn’t do it all or do it all well, and she’s okay with that, so the pressure’s off me too.” Who wants that legacy?
Actually, I do. I want our people to be free. I want them to be okay with being small — with loving simply and well and being grateful for the life God’s given them. And if God makes me small and average so they see that, well then I’m happy.
P.S. Later this week I’ll blog more practically about how PowerSheets are helping me with the process of priorities and boundaries.