Over-Committed in the New Year?

A new year beckons. With it come plans for personal change, growth and service, whether we formulate them into “New Year’s resolutions” or not.  We want to get to the gym and get in shape. We want to spend more time with the kids or grandkids. We want to take that course or finish our degree. We want to be more committed, more involved in the ministry of our church.  But with all our plans and hopes, will we find ourselves over-committed and stressed out? 

If we take our Christian faith and life seriously, we can be torn over what appears to be an awkward choice:  serving God faithfully to the detriment of our health, or taking care of ourselves to the neglect of those whom God has called us to serve. This is not an easy dilemma to resolve!  Too often we take on more than we can handle, and easily confuse what Christian commitment is meant to be.  If we’re always saying “yes” to every request, and can’t bring ourselves to say “no,” we need to look at why that’s so, just as we may need to look at why it is that we never or only rarely say “yes” to service opportunities.

Our primary commitment is to the Lord God.  I understand that to mean, I commit (and entrust) myself to God to be a channel of God’s grace and love and healing. But certainly, not all channels are the same. I am one kind, you are another. What’s important is to be freely the kind of channel God has made me to be. That suggests I must know something of my abilities and gifts, my strengths and weaknesses, and my capacity for stress.  We must know our limits, but also know just how elastic our personality is for flexing and stretching as we reach those limits.

We work and serve, intending to do so freely and with inner peace.  But we can get involved, too close to the task and the issues it raises. We begin to lose our perspective and soon tire and weaken.  Among the early warning signs of over-involvement are—

  • an inability to relax, to sit quietly and do nothing without frustration or guilt;
  • ruminating thoughts and an inability to concentrate;
  • feelings of heavy expectation and anxiety, edginess with others that is out of character;  insomnia, coupled with racing thoughts or incessant thinking;
  • burning sensations in the stomach, not related to physical causes;
  • an absence of genuine laughter.

If we can heed the signs, they can be a source of learning and growth.  If they are ignored, they can lead to increasing ineffectiveness and ultimately, to the possibility of emotional collapse and impaired life and ministry. Looking at over-commitment and its root causes with a counselor at the Center can open up avenues for balance and well-being in our life and service.  Because nothing is more untenable than a defense of the kind of commitment that leads to burn-out made in the name of Him who said, “My peace I leave with you”!
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Rev. Dr. David Elseroad is a licensed marriage and family therapist in NY,  is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Hawthorne, NY.   His professional background includes work in multicultural ministries as pastor, hospital chaplain, missionary and   teacher.  Dr. Elseroad, who is fluent in both French and Spanish, has a Doctorate of Ministry in Pastoral Counseling. He counsels children, teens, couples, individuals and families at LCC’s Mineola, Bronxville, and Interchurch Center, NYC sites.

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