Last month I began a series on life in ministry families and the thinking patterns we absorb along the way. As I mentioned then, this conversation is for everyone — whether you grew up as a Pastor’s Kid (PK) or Missionary Kid (MK), whether you entered ministry as an adult, or whether you love people who are.
This month we’ll continue by discussing three of the lies Timothy Sanford writes about in his book “I Have to be Perfect” (and other Parsonage Heresies). As we process these statements, keep in mind that everybody experiences life differently. You might react to some of these ideas and not to others, and that’s ok.
“I’m here for others” & “Other people’s needs are more important than my own”
Ouch. These two lies hit close to home for me. They’re so intertwined that they’re hard to separate, and I’ve believed them both as a ministry wife. I’ve assumed people can walk all over me. All over my time, and all over my feelings. I’ve allowed people to trash my home, believing I must silently endure it as service to Christ. I’ve bought into the lie that I exist only to serve others, and that I can’t have needs of my own. Furthermore, I thought if I didn’t let other people do those things to me — and even more specifically, if I weren’t joyful about it — then I wasn’t a good Christian or a good ministry wife.
I required these things of myself. Did God require them of me? Must I only ever serve others? Philippians 2:4 tells us to “look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others.” That’s an intriguing grammatical construction, the “not only, but also.” The Apostle Paul, arguably the greatest missionary of all time, seems to be assuming that we have needs of our own and simply encourages us to care for others in addition to ourselves.
Galatians 6:2 instructs us to “Bear one another’s burdens.” Other versions say to “share” or “carry” one another’s burdens. I have a hard time deciding which verb I like best, so let’s use all of them: we are to bear, share, and carry one another’s burdens. The words “one another” imply a reciprocal relationship: I help to carry your burdens, and you help to carry mine.
We’re accustomed to carrying other people through their difficult times. We’re not “supposed” to have troubles of our own. We’re not supposed to need someone to carry us; instead we need to keep carrying other people. But what about those times when we can no longer carry someone else? What about the times we can’t even carry ourselves? Can we let someone carry us for a change?
Being in ministry or missions doesn’t mean we’ll never need to be carried. It doesn’t mean we’ll never have needs. Sometimes we get comfortable stuffing our needs down and ignoring what our souls are saying to us. Sometimes we get accustomed to giving when we have nothing left to give. And sometimes we model those behaviors in our families.
Maybe we can start to acknowledge that we have needs of our own. Maybe we can allow others to pour into us for a time. Maybe we can give ourselves a little bit of the grace we offer so freely to others. (The flip side of this, of course, is that other people have to be willing to care for us, too.)
What does it take to create a community characterized by Galatians 6:2, a community of mutual burden-bearers who help each other through the troubles of life? It takes an acceptance, by all of us, that we don’t always have to be strong. It’s ok to be weak. It’s ok to depend on others, even if we’re in ministry — perhaps especially if we’re in ministry.
The idea that “other people’s needs are more important than my own” sounds very spiritual. It sounds very sacrificial and giving. But we are all of us humans, created and finite beings with limited resources. Our lives are powered by the Holy Spirit, true, but none of us can survive if we think we are only here for others, or if other’s needs are always more important than our own.
There’s a deeper, more insidious lie at work here, too. When we believe the lie that the only purpose of our life is to serve other people, we buy into the falsehood that we earn our worth. That our performance justifies our existence. That what we do, the service we yield for others, is what makes us valuable in both God’s eyes and other people’s eyes.
We need to remember the Truth. We need to know, in the core of our being, down in the cellar of our souls, that God’s love and approval do not depend on anything we do. The same God who made us from dust knows we are dust, and He redeemed us Himself. We are caught in His arms, caught in His gaze, and there is nothing left for us to prove. There is only God’s love, and the Cross has already proved it.
“I should already know”
This lie claims that I should already be farther along in my spiritual journey that I am right now. That whatever I know, I should know more. That wherever I am, I should be farther along. That whatever my faith is, it should be stronger. That however my relationship with God is faring, it should be better.
And of course my own personal favorite, oft-uttered in frustration: “Arg!! I should be a better person by now!!”
Saying and believing should entraps us. I should be nicer to that person. I should forgive those people. What happened back then shouldn’t still hurt. I shouldn’t be so angry at God. I should be less selfish and more generous. I should be more mature. I shouldn’t struggle with this sin anymore. I shouldn’t struggle with the “little” hardships in my life. I should be happier.
There’s nowhere to go but down to the depths of despair if I don’t do what I should do. If I’m not living life the way I should, then I’m a bad person. If I’m not as good as I should be, I’ve failed in my faith. If I’m not as dedicated as I should be, I’ve failed in my Bible study, failed in my prayer life, failed in my service to others.
Should looks to a past full of failures.
Should judges us as Insufficient! Inadequate! Unworthy!
Should. This one single word oppresses us.
What can we do about the crushing shoulds in our life?? Timothy Sanford suggests replacing them with coulds. Where should condemns, could gives hope. Where should breeds anxiety and fear, could sees opportunity for growth. Where should paralyzes, could expands. I could talk to God more. I could read His Word more. I could forgive that person. I could love that person more fully. A life of coulds is full of possibilities.
I want to give you permission to dump the shoulds in your life. I’d love to simply say the words and be confident that you’re no longer captive to your own shoulds. But I know better — I know it takes more than just saying the words. I’m going to say them anyway: You don’t need to do more or be better than you are right now. You are already Enough.
Wherever you are in your walk is acceptable for today. You’re right where you’re supposed to be. Every day you’ll grow. Every day you’ll be farther along than you were the day before, even if you don’t feel the change. Every day you’ll receive another dose of Grace, the medicine settling deeper into your soul.
The beauty, the mystery of it all, is that Grace happens without any shoulds at all. So let us release ourselves from the tyranny of the shoulds. Let us release our pastors from the shoulds. Let us release our missionaries. And for goodness sake, let us release their children. As people loved by a holy God and saved by Grace alone, let us rid ourselves of these lies before they imprint themselves onto the DNA of our souls.
Have you ever felt your needs didn’t matter, or that you should already know or be a certain something?
In your life, do you think those beliefs came from within yourself, or externally from family culture or church culture, or some combination of the three?
Do you need to take some time to detox from these unspoken beliefs, to give yourself a time of solitude and silence in order to relinquish these pressures into the Father’s hands?
Part 1: The Little Word That Frees Us
Part 3: “I Can’t Trust Anyone“
Part 4: “God is Disappointed With Me“
If you want to dig deeper into these issues, I suggest purchasing Timothy Sanford’s book.