Long ago, in a land far away, there lived five sisters. The Master Gardener, who loved them as his own, gave each sister a gift – a small plot of land to plant a garden. With excitement and hope, they prepared the soil and planted seeds, giving them lots of water and sunshine until they sprouted into healthy plants. As time went on, the five sisters tended to their gardens in their own different ways.
Months later, the Master Gardener invited each sister, one at a time, to come and share with him how her garden fared. The second sister approached with dragging steps and slumped shoulders. Her cheeks were reddened from hours in the sun, and her tired eyes revealed dark smudges underneath.
“How does your garden fare, my child?”
“Too well, I’m afraid to say. I wanted to plant as many things as I could, to thank you and praise you for this wonderful gift. So I have perennials and annuals, creeping plants and climbing plants, vegetables and fruits. The garden is truly bursting with life.”
“Then why do you look so unhappy?” the Master Gardener asked with kind but questioning eyes.
“Now it keeps me so busy I’m exhausted all the time. There’s so much work involved. Weeding, pruning, watering. It never ends. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even enjoy working in my garden anymore.”
“My dear child,” the Master Gardener replied. “I gave you this gift so you could find joy in your work. An overcrowded garden will not thrive and it will only leave you feeling tired and cross. You need balance and simplicity.
The Master Gardener helped her cut out sections of her garden (to pass along to other members of the village) and install a bench, where she could sit and rest in the shade and enjoy the beautiful bounty of her smaller and simpler garden.
A sigh of relief escaped her lips as the second sister delighted in the extra time she had to spend in quiet solitude. She promised never again to take on so much work that she forgot the reason she planted in the first place.
Does your faith life resemble the over crowded garden of the second sister? You’re involved in everything. You’re part of every church committee, prayer group, ministry, and Bible study. You can’t say no to anything. Like the sister Martha from Luke’s gospel, you’re overwhelmed with all the work you have to do.
This is a very common situation for many people who are actively involved in ministry and volunteer work. It’s called “church burnout” and we’ve all experienced it from time to time. Our busy schedule of church commitments begins to wear us down. It becomes a chore and even builds resentment. “Why do I have to do everything?!?”
Serving God through church ministries shouldn’t come at the expense of spending time with God.
The church work you do shouldn’t become a block to deepening your relationship with God.
Some points to consider:
Examine your motives. Why do you feel compelled to do so much? Is it an attempt to prove yourself worthy to God? A desire to impress others in the church? An inability to say “no”? There’s no doubt that God wants us to serve others. We see that in the example of his son, Jesus Christ. But we also see moments when Jesus left the crowds to go off by himself, taking time for quiet prayer and solitude. Look for this same kind of balance in your own faith life.
Set realistic boundaries. Once you become identified as the “go to” volunteer for getting things done, you’ll find you get called on for lots more. Be prepared for this and learn to say no if the work is getting to be too much.
Take a break. “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) God’s grace is not dependent on a numbered list of good deeds we’ve accomplished. You’ll be no less deserving of that grace if you scale back a bit. Remember, God want us to live healthy, balanced lives. The garden of your faith life should reflect that.
So if you’re feeling like this second sister, take some time to sit in your garden and pray. Block out all distractions of fundraisers, committee meetings, and potlucks. Come to God in the silence and rest in His loving embrace. You’ll be glad you did and your faith garden will find new life after a period of rest.
*Read Part One of Allegory of Five Gardens here.