Ask a Counselor: step back from the edge, my friends

by Kay Bruner on December 5, 2017

Some of us here are overfunctioners.

This means that we tend to do more than our fair share of everything.

You name it, we do too much of it.

Overfunctioners exist in the real world of regular people, but I think the missionary world tends to attract more than its fair share.

After all, out of the millions of people who heard those sermons about going to the uttermost parts of the earth, we are the people who took it seriously.  We are the ones who actually did it.

That could, just possibly, be an indicator that we might, just maybe, have the tendency to overfunction.

Here are two quick questions to evaluate whether overfunctioning has become an issue in our lives, and whether you ought to keep reading:

  1. How much are other people slacking off and not going their fair share?
  2. How much resentment am I feeling right now?

If I know for sure that all the other people aren’t doing enough (people in my passport country, my work colleagues, my spouse, my children) then I’m probably overfunctioning right now to make up for their failures.

If I’m feeling overwhelmed with all the things I absolutely must do, and getting resentful of those terrible slackers who aren’t doing enough, then very likely I’m overfunctioning.

Now, if you are an overfunctioner, like I am an overfunctioner, then here is what we tend to do in situations where other people aren’t doing enough:



We push forward and do more when others aren’t doing enough, because clearly, the problem is that everybody’s not doing enough!

I want to suggest that, just perhaps, we have mistaken the root problem.

What if the problem is NOT everybody else?

What if the problem is our overfunctioning itself?

I don’t know why you feel like you have to do too much, but here’s the bottom line for me: I get confused about who’s God and who’s not. 

When I’m overfunctioning, throwing myself under the bus and being resentful of anybody who’s not under there with me, I’ve lost track of who’s in charge.  I’ve started believing that if I don’t do every single thing, then all will be lost without me.

And honestly, I’m just not that big of a deal, you guys.

And neither are you.

Neither of us are God.

It does not all depend on us. We get to participate, and that’s awesome, but we are not what holds the universe together.

There’s kind of a narcissistic ugliness about my motivations when I’m overfunctioning, to be honest with you.

Maybe you’re a better person than I am, and your motivations for overfunctioning are pure as the driven snow.  You can let me know in the comments.

The other problem I’ve had is this: the more I overfunction, the more I overfunction.

The demands never stop.

It’s a black hole. 

Everybody’s always hungry, victims are always needy, the world is an endless ball of pain and sorrow.

So of course I have to keep going!

But as long as I keep running on that gerbil wheel, it’s going to keep turning and I’ll have to keep running.

Here’s what happened to me:  I did all that running, I kept overfunctioning, until I literally dropped in my tracks with a nervous breakdown, back in 2003.

Here is the life-saving thing that I learned in recovery from that breakdown:

I can stop.

I can rest.

When I’m feeling overwhelmed, overworked, resentful, used up, and depleted, I can step back.

I can accept the invitation of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I like it even better in The Message:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I’ve been trying this for 14 years now, and the world has never once stopped turning.  Things work out even when I don’t do too much, even when I don’t throw myself under the bus.  Sometimes things even work out better, as a matter of fact.  (That’s crazy talk, I know.)

So here we are, right before the holiday insanity strikes, my overfunctioning friends.

And I want to invite you to join me in one radical, life-changing act of peaceful revolution: step back.

When it’s just too much, when everything’s going to fall apart if you don’t doallthethings,

TRY the one insane thing that you’ve never, ever considered before:

Step back.

That’s right.

Instead of stepping forward, instead of doing more, step back.

Do less.


In this season of giving, RECEIVE.

Take what you need from the fountain of Love.

We were promised rest for our souls.

Open your hands and receive.

And I will too.

I know for sure what we are going to find: plenty for us all.

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About Kay Bruner

Kay Bruner was born in Buffalo, New York and grew up in Brazil, Nigeria, and the wilds of Kentucky. She and her husband have raised their four children in Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and currently reside in the great state of Texas. Kay is a Licensed Professional Counselor, and divides her work days between counseling and writing. She is the author of As Soon As I Fell and blogs at She is available for counseling at her office in Dallas or via skype for a reduced rate to clients overseas. For more information go to:
  • Kathy Vaughan

    I now have a label for myself. An overfunctioner. And although it fits well, it’s not particularly attractive. Thank you for such an honest assessment, and for pointing out what I have learned is the remedy – which I know works, but which I still often fail to practice – stepping back, letting time with my Lord be more important to me than taking care of all those situations that “need” me so much! This is a good time of year for me to be reminded, and I am asking God to help me still myself enough to spend precious, deep time with Him.

    • Receive that gift of rest for your soul!

  • Kim Abels

    Gah! This describes me in every way. I watch others step back and then take on THEIR slack too. I agree with what’s needed, but how do you do it? How can I, as a single parent of 3 and full-time teacher of orphans in SE Asia, step back and not harm my family or ministry? Seems pretty impossible, but that’s probably your point!

    • Yeah. It’s hard. In the midst of my nervous breakdown, I reportedly told someone, “But how will the Arosi people ever get their New Testament?” I seriously, deeply believed that if I stopped doing what I was doing, people would die and go to hell and it would be my fault. That’s just a bit of a god complex 🙂

  • Amanda Wight Mack

    YOU just freed me with this!! I would have never considered myself “overfunctioning” I am a pretty laid back, chill person. But where my family is concerned WHOA, everything in this applies. Thank you for sharing I SO needed this RIGHT now;))))

    • I’m so glad! That freedom is always yours. Receive.

  • ML

    I am a recovering over-function-er who was beginning a relapse. I have just

    returned from the mission field after one year’s absence, to a

    schedule of Dr’s appointments for my Mom and a house to prepare for

    family arriving in ten days for Christmas. On top of jet lag the

    exhaustion is setting in and the resentment growing for those around

    me who are taking it easy and enjoying life.

    Your email is a message from the LORD to remind me that I am not God!

    Neither is he asking me to sacrifice my health and more importantly

    my Christian witness to try and make things perfect.

    He is in charge of perfecting me and others and only asks that I

    cooperate with Him to

    do my part, not more. I am praying that your taking the time to share

    these truths will save others like myself from ourselves.

    Have a blessed and restful celebration of our Lord Jesus, who taught

    us that time away from others to rest and pray was more important even

    than the legitimate needs of those we love

    • I think a lot of us are like that elder son in the prodigal story: we’ve done all the right things, and we get a teensy tiny bit miffed with those who didn’t do all the right things and still get to have the party. What we don’t realize is that we’re totally invited, and totally included. We just have to get ourselves off the porch and into the party. Hope you have a wonderful, restful holiday season.

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