Doing Less Well

I can do a lot of things poorly, or I can do fewer things better. I learned this novel truth in college. I attended a small Christian college with a fairly rigid social structure. All the cool kids volunteered in off-campus ministry, sung in an on-campus performing choir, participated in intramural sports, and performed in various plays on campus. I tried to keep up with these star students who seemed admired by both teachers and other students. My second semester, I nearly had a nervous breakdown. I was in debate (actually won the intramural debate championship that semester because, well, I like to argue) and participated in a play that presented the gospel in sign language. I was keeping my grades up and participating in off-campus ministry too. I was sleep deprived and stressed trying to juggle all the things I thought I needed to juggle. And I just broke. It was horrible (and embarrassing). But it was the best thing that could have happened to me – breaking down and learning a hard but necessary lesson before I had a family depending on me keeping it together.

Twenty five years after first grasping that lesson, I had to remember it just this last week. I had to say no to an opportunity. It was a good opportunity, something I was interested in doing. But not every good opportunity that comes along is God’s best plan for me. I wrestled through taking this new responsibility on. My husband and I had several conversations about it. But it became clear that, while I could do it, it would stress me in the other responsibilities to which I was already obligated.

Good opportunities remind me of good guys. For a single woman, every good guy is not the right guy for you. That’s why lots of mature relationships between two people who love God still end painfully. Not every good man is God’s plan for every good woman. And so it is with the good works and good opportunities that come across our paths. We can’t do every good thing that comes along. I can’t give to every good cause. I can’t volunteer for every good ministry. But there are some to which I should be completely available. Back in college, I couldn’t do my course of study justice if I was also involved in a performance choir. Some people could, by the way, but I couldn’t. Now, in my current stage of life, I can’t love my children well and be available to disciple them as I feel convicted if I have volunteered for more than I can handle. And for each of us, that amount is different. Some women have a ton of energy and physical/emotional endurance. They can do more than me, and that’s great for them. I, on the other hand, find myself losing it quickly when I bite off more than I can chew. And I lose it with my kids and husband first.

Ecclesiastes 11 seems to present almost the exact opposite of this idea. I wrote here about that passage a long time ago, but the principle stays in my mind. Sometimes I only have portions for 7, but I need to give to 8. In those events, God equips me to give beyond myself as only He can. But there is a difference in trusting God to help me with the unforeseen, overwhelming need of the moment (such as 8 mouths showing up unexpectedly when I had only planned on 7) and obligating myself ahead of time for a responsibility I can’t juggle (inviting 7 over but only preparing enough for 6). The difference is subtle, yet important.

It’s a matter of stewardship, of thinking ahead of the obligations and resources God has given me and planning responsibly how to manage both those resources and responsibilities. And it’s a matter of wisdom, of seeking God’s face in prayer and Scripture and trusting the Holy Spirit to guide me on what He has planned before time began for me to accomplish. Then, finally, it’s a matter of peace through grace—that poignant stabilizing gift of God through Christ that reminds me I do not have to earn His favor, and I do not have to keep up with another woman who can juggle more than me. God has His plans for the good works He has prepared for her, and He has different plans for me. Comparing myself to another is unwise (2 Cor. 10:12), and I can be at peace in stewarding the things to which God has called me even if it doesn’t look like the next woman.

10 Responses to Doing Less Well

  1. Laura March 14, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    this is a very wise and helpful post! thank you!

  2. Anonymous March 14, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    Thank You! I have slowly been coming to the same conclusion (after years of trying to do as much as i perceive other women/mummies/wives to be doing and failing) but really needed to hear it from someone else as i was worried i was just excusing my reduced schedule. May God continue to richly bless your ministry (in the home and outside it).

  3. Melissa B. March 14, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

    Thank. You.

  4. Pia March 15, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    I struggled with this way too long, and still at times find myself with the “Costco shopping mentality” – If I don't get it now, it may not be here the next time I come! (I think this is why 25% of their inventory is constantly turning over – they want us to think this way.) Gee, if I pass up this opportunity I may never have as good a one again. Years ago had a Bible study teacher would had twelve children, 2 natural and 10 fetal alcohol syndrome adopted children from Russia. I said to him something along the lines of, “I don't feel like I'm doing much compared to you.” I still remember the look on his face and the tone of his voice when he responded that God had given him the resources to do so and not me. Yes, he was a Microsoft retiree (when it was lucrative to be so) with both he and his wife at home full time. My life was quite different. The lesson learned, we all have different resources and different places those resources are allocated. I have at times found myself judging others thinking of them as slackers and found myself saying yes to things solely to keep others from thinking of me as a slacker. Oh, that I would learn that the safest place for me to be is solely in the center of God's will.

  5. Wendy March 15, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    Such good words, Pia.

  6. Luma Simms March 17, 2013 at 5:59 am #

    Been chewing on this for a couple of days…. very wise…

  7. Wdom March 18, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

    Such a good reminder.

    I guess another resource we have is future hope. A new earth, new bodies, and eternity. We might just be able to experience things we thought we'd missed out on. 🙂

  8. Mary Bernard March 18, 2013 at 1:50 pm #


    So good, so helpful. A struggle for me every single day.

    And Pia, your comments are immensely helpful as well. 🙂

  9. Stacey March 21, 2013 at 9:01 am #

    Oh, how I needed to read this. I have worked as a nurse for ~12 years but am now a stay at home mom to our one 9-year-old son, and with the worsening of his ADHD, I have been discovering how significantly my ADHD has been impacting who I am as well. It has been a really hard year, and I've been trying to come to terms with so many of the themes you've described here. I was always so very angry and constantly disappointed with myself for not being as efficient as other nurses, and for being so overwhelmed by parenting just one child when so many other moms from church have as many as 9 children and haven't been locked up in a rubber room – who, having 3, 4, or more kids show up at church on time, all the children dressed, present, and accounted for. I cannot begin to tell you how comforting this post is to me. This must be why God has allowed me to have insomnia now – thank you so much for what you've written here. I plan to dwell on what God is showing me through it. Thank you SO much. 🙂

  10. Stacey March 21, 2013 at 9:08 am #

    Oh, I so relate to what you've said here, especially everything you said both times you mentioned “slacker”! I'm so blessed by all your comments!