by Becky De Oliveira—
“Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty” (Job 6:14, NIV).
Today at church, a casual acquaintance confessed his feeling of being completely overwhelmed by the needs of others. He works in one of the “caring” professions, and his office is understaffed. He is all things to all people—and while he enjoys being useful in this way, he is lately finding the experience draining. He’s approaching burnout and doesn’t know what to do about it.
I can relate. My belief—more or less—has always been that God sends people to me. That is to say, anyone who comes within my orbit was likely sent my way because they need something that perhaps only I can—or am willing to—provide. On top of that, I am a natural people pleaser. According to Psychology Today, this means I am driven by fear of rejection and fear of failure. Yup, sounds about right.
As pathological as it may sound, this is usually a fun way to live and very rewarding. God seems to send problems I actually have the capacity to deal with. He has never sent me anyone whose problems seem insurmountable or that will threaten to bury me. And yet, I sometimes feel fed up and exhausted when people ask me for favors. This last week, a fellow student in one of my classes asked me to take notes for him since he had medical appointments and would miss two classes. Fine. No problem. Happy to do it. But then another friend asked me to read and check the APA style on her 59-page research paper. Sure. Someone else wrote to ask if I could give an opinion on an essay they’d written. An hour later I received another request—almost identical—from someone else. And then I discovered I needed to begin editing a joint paper for publication and tracking down the contributors who had not yet contributed. Before I knew it, there went my spare time over the weekend—used up reading and editing other people’s writing. This on top of the reading and editing I do for money. I do not—to be honest—even think I’m all that good at reading and editing. “Who cares what I think?” I fumed to myself as I looked at my ever-growing to-do list, made up primarily of tasks that I do not super enjoy, and thinking about how there are some people who watch TV on Saturday nights, people who make popcorn.
I had recently begun to put my foot down on requests for my time. I had a firm policy and I enforced it for a few weeks. (This must have been a short-lived New Year’s Resolution.) I do things for only one of three reasons, I told myself: 1) Money to pay for my son’s college tuition, 2) Professional growth, or 3) Because I really want to do it. It’s ideal if the task in question ticks all three boxes, and really, it should knock off at least two of them. I’ve said “no” to a few friends in recent weeks and even felt proud of myself for creating boundaries and sticking to them. But then here I am, fallen off the wagon. I said “yes” to all these recent requests even though I have a growing backlog of my own work that never seems to get any smaller. Even though not a single one of the tasks fulfils even one of my requirements. There’s nothing in doing this work for me—except, of course, that warm glowing feeling, that sense of having achieved some kind of purpose in the world. There’s that.
So here I am, taking a break from all the editing, to compose a blog about finding balance. Is there anyone who gets this right? Well, me—some of the time and only through God’s enormous grace. Even as I type these words, I find myself growing stronger. I remind myself how honored I feel that people choose to ask me for help, what a privilege it is to have another person care what I think, actively seek my opinion and guidance. I know these thoughts are God, whispering in my ear. He’s saying, “You have asked to be of use in this world. Right now, this is all I’m asking of you. Read a few pieces of paper. Respond with a mix of warm affirmation and constructive criticism. What else do you have going on?” And really, nothing. It’s been a long time since I’ve cared much about TV. And nothing’s stopping me from making some popcorn and having a little editing party. Thank you, God, for speaking into my life. Again.
Becky De Oliveira is a doctoral student in research methods working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.