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Thoughts on Being Overburdened
I took down a post today. It was up for about an hour, and several commenters rightly took me to task for being too hard on someone. So I decided it wasn't worth keeping online. I may comment on it again later and explain my reasoning, but I'm sitting in the Charlotte, North Carolina airport right now, and I haven't eaten all day, and I'm probably not in the right mental place!

But I am having a series of thoughts that all seem to flow from the same place, and so let me pose a question:

We are called to be Good Samaritans, and help our neighbors. We are called to make use of opportunities to bring God to people. But here's the problem: the opportunities are limitless, and we are not. How do you choose?

I was challenged today, for instance, that I hadn't taken enough time with someone who wanted my help. I understand the criticism, but let me tell you another story that is currently happening to a good friend of mine.

My friend married a man with no family except for one aunt, whom he feels responsible for. This aunt has more than enough money to get by, but she is a "taker" and not a "giver". She expects to be invited to everything; to be deferred to; to be pampered; but she never says thank you, or offers to help in the kitchen, or anything. She is extraordinarily lazy.

This aunt is now experiencing health issues where she really can't care for herself anymore. She can't clean, and she can't manage her finances. But she won't hire a housekeeper and she won't move to the city near my friend and her husband. Instead, whenever she runs into a particularly bad pickle she expects my friend to drop everything, including her three children, and come and clean her house. She does not reimburse my friend for gas money or for cleaning supplies.

My friend doesn't mind helping, but dropping everything when you have a baby and children who need to get picked up from a school bus and soccer that needs to be practiced is very difficult.

So here's the question: how much are you expected to help? Should she just "suck it up" and keep helping, or is it okay if she says, "I will help if you move closer, but I can't keep doing this?"

I don't have a good answer for her, but I'm curious as to what you all think.

I often feel pulled in many directions. I deal with "help request" emails everyday, and spend about an hour a day answering mentoring emails. I don't mind the ones to do with marriage--I can usually turn them into blog posts, so I find them actually helpful sometimes when I try to come up with new posts. But when you combine that with my work with the youth at my church, and wanting to get together with my nephews and niece who could really use us, and seeing my in-laws and my mother, and meeting our neighbors, and still homeschooling my children and making dinner, it gets difficult.

At some point, I think you need to say: this is the ministry that God has given me to do. And even if someone asks for help, or even if I have the opportunity to show God to someone, that doesn't mean that I have to do it. I can't burn myself out.

Is that fair? I try to pray and ask God that He will show me the opportunities I'm actually supposed to follow, but I'm at the point where I can't say yes to everything. And I'm not sure I'm good at hearing God (as is evidenced by my bad judgment today).

So how do you all juggle it? How do you shine as a light to others without blowing out your own wick? How far does our responsibility go?

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

And now I need to go board a plane....


At 5:31 PM , Blogger Mary R. said…

Hate to say it, but elderly women like the one you described are the ones who end up in the nursing home. I have run into others like that who refuse to move to be closer to relatives who would be glad to help them, but they refuse. Frequently they expect the younger relatives to move in with them, leaving jobs and children's schools behind, which is unrealistic. We do a lot of nursing home ministry, and not all the residents are poor, pitiful old people that nobody wanted. Some are unrealistic and stubborn like the woman you describe and they end up there because they won't let their families help them. I feel sorry for your friends. No, the young wife should not feel like she should drop everything. I'm impressed with how much they are already doing.


At 5:54 PM , Anonymous Laura said…

I think good boundaries for the sake of both the Aunt and the friend need to come into play. It is difficult to deal with an adult who acts like a child, and I don't believe that the Christian answer is to let them continue in their self centered attitude. In very gentle and respectful ways, the family being "used" needs to be very upfront about how they can best help and the limits to their availability. And it might be best if it is her nephew that communicates where the boundaries lie.


At 7:17 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Nancy Leigh DeMoss, in her book "Lies Women Believe", said that we shouldn't feel like we have to do everything. Jesus Himself did not heal every sick person on the planet during this earthly life, or preach the Gospel to every individual person in the world, or feed every hungry person, resurrect every dead person, etc. He accomplished the work that His Father gave Him to do, nothing more and nothing less. We also are only responsible for completing the work that God calls us to do. Sometimes it's hard to know what God calls us to do and what He doesn't. But in your friend's case, God has called her to be a wife and mother. Yes, the bible teaches we have a responsibility to care for our elderly family members. But if your friend has to neglect her duties as a wife and mother, she's going too far. I have a feeling if this couple set boundaries and refused to do more than they're able, their aunt would hire a housekeeper or move closer, or whatever. I doubt she'd allow herself to starve if someone refused to buy her groceries since she is financially able to care for herself, unless she has dementia or Alzheimer's or something, in which case she should either be put in a nursing home that can properly care for her or forced to move close enough to the family so they can care for her. Younger generations were not meant to accommodate their lives for the sake of the older generation -- it should be the other way around.


At 7:34 PM , Anonymous Nebby said…

I did a post on this a while back. The link is:
The gist is that there are always a number of factors to consider including not neglecting one's primary responsibilities. It is hard to make a blanket statement because there can be a lot of factors involved.


At 7:26 AM , Blogger Llama Momma said…

Really great comments already on this post. I'm with Laura on the boundaries.

Even Jesus had boundaries. When you think about him traveling place to place and the mobs of people who followed on earth did he ever move on to the next place? But he knew it was time to off he went. Inevitably, there were more people in line, waiting to talk to him, be healed, whatever.

Even Jesus had limits to what he could do. He shared our humanity in this.

So we ask ourselves: what is God calling me to? Do that without apology.

There are times when sacrifice for extended family is called for. And times when we must insist that they hire a cleaning service!!


At 8:09 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

It sounds like you are quite overworked lately and probably need a mental break to refresh. The immediate family and extended family are priorities when allocating our time and energy. Everything else is fair game for cutting out of our lives during the time that the family has high needs. As for the friend's effort on behalf of the aunt, if she can't tend to both, the children have to come first. The aunt, never having had children, seems not to understand the hardship she is causing.


At 12:59 PM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…

I use this screen -

Helping someone is doing for them what they can't do themselves.

Enabling them is doing what they can and should do for themselves.

Granted, if the aunt is in failing health, there are things she genuinely needs help with. But she CAN make respectful requests (rather than demands), pay for things she can afford, and accommodate herself to her helpers.

It all comes down to whether your friend and her husband will stand together in this.

We had a similar (but not as extreme) issue with my grandmother, who didn't drive and was widowed. She wanted me to run her around on all her errands, when my three boys were five and under. When my grandpa was alive, that was their recreation! They'd do one or two piddly little errands each day, and that's what she wanted from me.

When I said no, she'd moan about being a burden and how we didn't have time for her.

I told her one day a week. I will take you wherever you need to go, one day a week. Doctor appointment, Target, visit a friend, out to lunch, grocery store (ONE grocery store, not four all across town, just because they have chicken broth, 10 cents off).

She grumbled about it, but she adapted :D

Also, I liked scrap-booking, and had nowhere to do it in my little house, with all those little hands. So I came over to visit her most Friday nights - to keep her company, and to keep me sane. Benefited both of us :D

I don't mean that that is the exact solution for your friend, but that she can figure out what it is reasonable for her to offer, and stick by her guns :D



At 1:10 PM , Blogger sarahe said…

Being in vocational ministry, the team I'm on discusses boundaries a lot--what is our role, when do we step back, etc...

One of the best things we've done is look at the scripture passage Galatians 6:1-5. In verse 2 it says "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" This follows after a discussion on spiritual accountability for sin. Then he goes on to talk about being responsible for your own work and boasting in that, and finishes with the statement (v.5) "For each will have to bear his own load." As my team has discussed this we've talked about the difference in a load and a burden. The word load in Greek could be thought of as similar to a backpack--each person has their own responsibilities that they were responsible for. If you're going on a camping trip, each person is given their own load to carry so that they will be equipped for the time at hand. The group tent could be thought of as a "burden" this is not one person's sole responsibility, and for the needs of the group, everyone will come together to help carry it. Similarly, if one camper become physically incapacitated his load may become a burden that would require the help of others.

So it all comes down to, is the other person dealing with a load or a burden? When it comes to the daily tasks of living and consequences for their life choices, most of the time it is their load that they need to bear. But when certain things arise: say illness, death of family members, divorce, abuse, etc...that is when the body of Christ comes together to help that person bear the current burden. Contextually, this also is about sin--when we see a fellow believer struggling under the weight of sin we are called to bear that burden with them and "restore him in gentleness."

The hard part is determining what is a burden and what is a load, all the while keeping the attitude of v. 9 "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."

Not sure if all of that makes sense, but it is a Biblical perspective on the issue.


At 1:20 PM , Blogger thesewinggeek said…

It is really hard to juggle it all. And it seems to bother those of us who feel responsibiltiy to others. For example I know people who can set boundries and say -"no I can not do that because.... I have to clean, laundry day, my time for the gym, It's our date night, you have to do what is best for your family _ this last one is the one that bugs me the most. I feel like yelling at these people - I don't do housework, laundry, cook, go to the gym, have date night or do what is best for my famlily or my self because then I would feel selfish and couldn't live with myself. Now and then I truely feel angry that it is hard for me to say no or to care for others. I have read books galore, time management, boundries etc. but it comes down to I don't know why I have to respond to those in need, help at the bakesale, organise the whatever... Recently I was told that I did it to gain self esteem. Humm I would gladly give up self esteem to say no to requests. If you get the answer on that let me know. Because in my life if I did what I thought was best just for me then I would have a whole bunch of people who would still need a friend, help, a ride or someone to talk too.


At 1:39 PM , Blogger sarahe said…

one more thing--a few great quotes from Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Hightest:

"Joy comes from seeing the complete fulfillment of the specific purpose for which I was created and born again, not from successfully doing something of my own choosing"..."If you have received a ministry from the Lord Jesus, you will know that the need is not the same as the call--the need is the opportunity to exercise the call"..."You must be sensitive to what God has called you to do, and this may sometimes require ignoring demands for service in other areas."

We must always remember that God loves other people more than we ever could, and he has equipped the body of Christ to fulfill the earthly needs that we have. Do people fail to allow themselves to be used? Of course. Are there gaps in service because of our sin? Yes, but ultimately are we looking to fulfill what God has equipped and called us to do, or are we trying to play God by "meeting everyone's needs"? (which we will ALWAYS fail at, plus when we rely on our own strength we will become weary, and even worse, we will point people to ourselves and "what we can do" instead of pointing them to Christ.)


At 2:23 PM , Blogger Cara said…

We have a family member who had similar "virtues" and we also wrestled with their choices...and our own. What should we do? How far should we go to accommodate them? after about 15 years of this behavior, one family member told this person that, while we loved them we did not approve of their most recent choice. This person was honestly shocked. She had thought all along that we found nothing wrong with any of her behavior because we'd never said anything and always helped her out.

I think it really pays to pray about each situation and follow the Spirit's leading. Being honest, in LOVE, is also important.


At 3:34 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Great comments! Thank you so much! I'm sure that my friend will appreciate this.

Sarah E, those passages from Galatians are ones I have talked on before, too, using the "backpack" vs. load analogy as well.

But not to play devil's advocate, but what if the person honestly IS facing a load? What if it isn't just a backpack, but health deteriorates to such an extent that they DO need help?

Are we still supposed to help, even if we really don't have the time if we're to stay in our primary area of ministry?

That's the rub, I think. And I don't have any easy answers! So if you want to comment back, that would be great, because you've obviously thought this one through.

Mary R., I hear what you're saying about nursing home people, too. Some, yes, are sweet and lonely. But others have only themselves to blame.


At 4:51 PM , Blogger sarahe said…

I would say that if it is a true burden we have to look at it from the Biblical perspectives of Galatians 6:2 & 9--Bear one another's burdens & do not grow weary in doing good. However, I don't believe that means that we must necessarily take all the responsibility onto ourselves. That is what the body of Christ is for--does the church have a care ministry that can help with the necessities? Are there other family members and friends who may be able to help out? But most of all, how can you help that person transition the burden into a manageable load (aka, helping vs. enabling)--be it physical therapy, an at-home nurse, therapy, etc... I've personally experienced the issues of a life-changing chronic illness, and at first I needed the extra help, but then I had to take responsibility to manage my new lifestyle.

Now, in the case of your friend who's aunt is refusing to take steps to help herself, I would say that her attitude is making that a load that she is responsible to bear. When it comes to people who absolutely refuse to be helped unless it is in their terms, they have to have the boundaries very strongly drawn for them. Help is just that--help. We don't earn the right to have someone else manage our lives & responsibilities. So I would say that her family must come up with an exact list of what they are and are not willing or able to do. Gently and lovingly as possible let the aunt know the boundaries and refuse to budge when she tries to overstep those lines. Is it easy? Absolutely not. But we are only responsible to the Lord and to our families. We cannot ever change a person's attitude, only our own actions. And I'm always interested to see how a person like that will react--very often (though not always) when your crutch is taken away you are forced to learn how to walk by yourself.

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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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