Monday, March 30, 2009

You've Been Served

I am a very average person who occasionally masquerades as an over-achiever. Don't get me wrong, I love me some applause when I score big. In my thirties I was still showing my parents my college report cards. But I am not a true over-achiever. I have to work my butt off to get there. Which brings with it a good degree of anxiety because it's always a possibility that I won't quite reach the mark and then instead of being an average person I am a failed over-achiever. It used to make the Mr. nuts when I'd study around the clock because an "A" was the only acceptable grade. As far as he was concerned, a little less stress and a passing "C" was just as good. In fact, our Dean of Nursing told us at orientation, "C = RN." Sure enough, those C=RNs make as much as me and very rarely is there an opportunity to slide my GPA into lunchtime conversation.

What I've learned as a quasi-over-achiever is that you have to know why you're pushing yourself so hard or all of those impressive accomplishments will leave a bad taste in your mouth. Eventually, no matter how great you did, the standing ovations will sit down and life will move on. Something else will come along to push you out of the limelight and fewer conversations will venture into a review of your resume. Then what? On to the next challenge! It's easy to become like a little kid trying to sing louder than all the other little kids...look at me! In the grown-up world it can be taking on yet another project at work that you know will drown you but you want everyone to see how amazing you are. Or picking up another ministry at church so your list of service is at least one item longer than someone else's. Or volunteering for the task no one else wants to do so that others know you're just a little better than the average guy.

Or refusing to go out to dinner because five less minutes of studying might get you a B in Anatomy instead of an A. A B is so...average.

When you put 110% into life you teach people that this is what they can expect from you. That's not a bad thing at all. In fact, I think it is a reflection of Christ in us. I was always taught that as a Christian, I should be the best employee in the place. With maturity I am finding that I get confused when I start getting my pay-off from people instead of the Lord. I should be the best because of my desire for Christ to show through me. In honestly, I am guilty of wanting the attention of others and being disappointed when it fell short. If truly I were representing Christ, only his pleasure in me would motivate me. When I start to rein in that prideful spirit, because that is what we're talking about, I feel much more comfortable NOT doing the extra project. It'll take a little bit of time to learn this if you are a quasi-over-achiever like me. With a history of being the Amazing Sara (gag), I am often given just one more committee or one more policy or one more whatever to handle because I'll do it and do it well. When I start to do these outstanding things with resentment I know it's time to rein the Amazing Sara in. You want to know a really nasty little secret? I actually have taken on more than I can handle because I don't want someone else to get credit for it. Terrible. I know. I am a credit hog. If there's something out there to which I can attach my name, I am tempted to jump on it. Don't tell anyone. And yes, I am entirely aware this is an issue of self-esteem which is exactly what I was saying a paragraph ago. Seeking gratification from a source other than God. I'm sure I'm the only such person out there.

I'm learning now to say I cannot do this or that. Or I just don't want to. How do you like that? It is a balancing act to be so free that I am comfortable refusing to take on anything and doing my fair share and doing it well. Someone recently told me that they are sick unto death of the latest Christian buzzword...serving. I just love to serve, I can't serve enough, I want to serve everyone, I know all this serving I do is wearing me out but I can't help it, I am such a servant. Puke. That's a direct quote, puke.

The over-achieving Christian is called a servant in 2009. We've made the title of servant a joke. It happens innocently as churches try to survive by teaching the Biblical truth of serving others. However, we've lost control of the idea. Now serving is only recognized in the form of a sign-up sheet and a commitment of a prescribed number of hours. The daughter who is spoon-feeding her dying mother and so cannot work in the nursery is lost in the hierarchy of service. The family trying to work two jobs and keep a roof over their kids heads are not plugged in because they have to choose between time at home as a family or organizing games at the church picnic and they chose the former. Serving can become like a Girl Scout's sash as we all compete for badges. The trouble is; the invisible badges, the private sacrifices; don't count.

Be careful, you Christian over-achievers. Be careful that you are not being lured into the collection of badges. Be careful that you lack the wisdom to know where the yes and nos belong. As soon as I hear myself listing my accomplishments, either out loud or to myself; I know I've entered into dangerous territory. The divine payback to service is peace. Where peace is lacking in the midst of busyness it is time to reconsider.

Matthew 6:2-4 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.


Louise said...

You have no earthly idea how much I needed to read this post ... thank you for writing it, this heart of mine needed to take it all in and affirm that I cannot do it all, nor is it expected of me to even try. I've continually over-loaded my plate and it's time to stop and take stock and find out just what the Lord wants me to do. Thank you Thara. I loveth you.

Constance said...

GREAT post! I had the same problem myself. It has taken a lot of work but now when someone asks me to do them a favor, I reply,
"If I can."
I even say this to my own kids!

I love me some "atta girls" and it IS hard not getting my self-worth from earthly applause. Our Pastor always reminds us that we should care about "the applause of One" and not everyone else. All that earthly stuff really doesn't amount to a hill of beans. Yes, I want the jewels in my crown to lay at Jesus' feet but it's hard not to enjoy the applause of the world, fleeting as it is!

Deb said...

This was me. Completely. Proof: I scored in the top 6% of the nation (not just my class...) but THE NATION on my board exam for Medical Technology. Does it matter? Not really. Am I paid more than the techs working along side me who made Cs? Nope.

Have I learned to say 'no'? Yes.
But...I STILL feel guilty about it when I do. ESPECIALLY if it's something involving the church. Recently, I turned down not one, but TWO painting projects that the church asked me to do. I felt bad and mentally beat myself up about it for days...but I just didn't have the time or the energy after caring for my family and working at my job. So - it is what it is. And it wasn't so much the pride of what will they people think of me...but rather, what will God think of me? Truth is...He loves me just the same. Nothing I do will earn any more of His love and nothing I don't do will detract from how much He loves me.

Thanks for this post. It's a good one!