By Patti Cappa
I am sure most of us remember the old Supremes’ song “Stop! In the Name of Love.” In the 1960s I would stand on my fireplace hearth wildly singing it, just like Diana Ross, using a metal spatula as a microphone, but that’s not the story I want to relate hereSo often through the years at the clergy care center where I work, I have heard men and women say “they have been working so hard at ministry.” In fact, many are putting in 80 hours a week.
They are counseling, organizing, going to meeting after meeting, and then having activities every night. Yes, every night! Some work seven days a week or, if they are really lucky, they get one day off. Of course, that “off day” sometimes is interrupted by a crisis.
What happens when, in the name of ministry, we end up having no time for ourselves, our spouse, or our children? Many of us know what happens; we end up not knowing our children, our spouse, or ourselves. Sadly, some of us are better known by outsiders than by family members. Ever sadder, some of us are really known by no one at all.
This phenomenon of working too hard and too long isn’t unique to those of us in Christian service, but it does seem to be prevalent. We love to think that doing God’s work is more important than everything else. With all due respect, I am here to tell you to “Stop! In the name of love!”
Love your Lord. Love your spouse. Love your family. Ministry is still a job. I know many of you may disagree with that statement. That’s fine, but don’t put ministry before other relationships that really matter.
‘HE TALKED WITH ME’
I must confess I am also susceptible to working too hard. Two springs ago I had been very busy with ministry trips, mailings, volunteering, and the usual heavy counseling schedule. I was feeling pretty full of myself and all the accomplishments I was stacking up.
About that time I had one of my little conversations with Jesus.
(Do you ever imagine talking to Jesus and asking him questions and listening to him answer? I know at least one hymn writer did and that lets me know I am not totally whacked-out. When he wrote “In the Garden,” C. Austin Miles included this line: “He walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own.”)
So we are having this little conversation at the pearly gates, and I have in hand my yellow legal pad. Every line has something on it: married 25 years to the same man, mother for 22 years, counselor for 15 years, Sunday school teacher on and off for 25 years, and the list goes on and on and on.
I want to ask Jesus what my crown is going to look like. (I’m embarrassed to tell you this.) He says, “Come sit down by me.”
I sit down and ask him, “Can I show you my list now”?
He says, “No, I don’t want to see your list.” Of course, we all know he already knows my little list of achievements. Despite that fact, I am very disappointed.
“You mean you don’t want to see my list?” I ask incredulously. How could he not want to see my list?
Jesus looks into my eyes and calmly asks me, “Why did you do those things?”
I am a bit tongue-tied, and I need to think it over for awhile. Finally, in a very soft and young-sounding voice I say, “Because I love you.”
He hugs me and kisses me on the cheek and smiles and says, “Yes.” Suddenly, the list is irrelevant.
THE MAIN THING
That little conversation really changed my perspective. It was especially helpful when I got sick and couldn’t keep adding achievements to my list. I could no longer “do things” to be loved by God. I had to accept that he simply loves me and understand that my main endeavor is to love him back. The “doing” is a side effect of the loving, not the other way around.
So I say to you: “Stop! In the name of love!” Stop ministering so hard! Stop working so hard!
Look at those lovely ones around you: the spouse you chose to marry so long ago, the children you brought into this world, and your dear family members and friends. Let go of some of the work and start loving more.
Accomplishing things for the Lord is wonderful (see James 2:14-26). But, we must have our priorities in order (see Matthew 22:37, 38). Loving the Lord and our neighbor as ourselves is the first priority, and that “neighbor” might just be your spouse or child.
If I have a thousand items on my list and have not love . . . well, you know the Scripture; it won’t be sweet and lyrical hymns. It will be dissonant noise. (Read 1 Corinthians 13).
Patti Cappa is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a certified addictions counselor working at Marble Retreat, a clergy care center in Colorado (www.marbleretreat.org). Patti’s interests are family systems therapy and marital issues. She and her husband, Steve, have three sons, Matt, Will, and Dave.