(Book begins with the Preface in the January 31 post.)
4. Realize we cannot do it all. The task of providing a decent life to every human on the planet is an overwhelming one. It can easily swamp us. As individuals, we are not meant to meet every need, to solve every problem. That’s as ludicrous as a one-man circus. We cannot tame the lions, train the elephants, walk the tightrope, juggle, swing from the trapeze and sell the popcorn alone. God is in charge; he’s brought in a troupe. And he assigns each of us our part.
Unfortunately, it took me twenty-plus years to even begin to learn that lesson. When I became aware of the need to be involved in social compassion, I tried to give to every cause that asked me for donations and to participate in every service opportunity that arose. My mailbox soon overflowed with appeals from organizations I never knew existed, all interested in saving a person, a park, a panda or a pansy. The needs and requests kept multiplying as organizations bought mailing lists from others.
Trying to complete the hazy self-proscribed mission of “changing my world” while working full-time and serving as a pastor’s wife soon left me burned out. I knew I needed to serve God both in the church and in the world, but I just couldn’t do it all. If this was what God had created me for, why couldn’t I carry it out?
In previous cycles when I burned out (or guilted out), I dropped the social justice portion of my service. After all, I couldn’t very well just stop being a pastor’s wife. I tried to assuage the guilt by telling myself that God certainly didn’t want me to do a poor job of serving him, so better not to do it at all. Perhaps he would call someone more “spiritual,” more selfless to do the job. I would resign myself to status as a second-tier Christian, the idea that I could never live a wholly committed life for Jesus, since apparently that involved being a social activist.
This time, though, I didn’t run. I admitted to myself that perhaps my focus was too broad. Possibly I was trying to do things God had not created me for, to be someone God had not created me to be. God never intended for one person to do it all, hence the body concept in the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians. I’m not designed to be the complete body; in fact, I may be merely a pinkie toe. Whatever “body part” I was created to be, that’s where I am to function. I needed to find my place. This required a further examination of who I was and who I was not . . .
By the time I hit college, my mom’s set of Corelle plates was decimated. We only had five dinner plates left, which was usually okay as there were five of us. But when my elder brother, Carl, got engaged, his fiancée, Cathy, began to eat a lot of meals at our home. When I set the table, my mother would always insist that I give her a small salad plate so the rest of us could have the five large ones. If any of us tried to take the small plate, she would sternly urge us to let her have it. Cathy and I began to tease her, taking the plate, demanding that we wanted a chance to “be the martyr.” To this day “I want to be the martyr” is a family joke.
But somewhere along the way I absorbed the belief that martyrdom was a virtue, one I should be striving for. Wasn’t that what Paul meant in Romans 12:1 when he urged us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices? Unfortunately, I never made a good martyr. I can be selfish, and I certainly don’t want to die, especially not daily.
This time around, I gave up the martyr ambitions. Like an alcoholic at a 12-step group, I came before God and said, “My name is Carol, and I’m not Mother Teresa.”
It was freeing. I no longer expected myself to “give it all up” in service to the world. While all that I have is to be used for God, I had never received a call to voluntary poverty. I had received a call as a pastor’s wife, a suburban pastor’s wife even, and one as a writer. Those were my places, and I could seek God, discovering the areas where and how he wanted me to be involved.