I was busy working on the sidewalk, pleading for the lives of unborn babies with a small team. We were all fully invested in our mission, focused and intent on advocating for those precious lives that had only moments left to live. If we did not speak on their behalf, there would be no voice raised in their defense.
A man pulled over to the curb and popped open his car door. He stepped out with an armful of brochures. I recognized him. He is very politically active in defending pro-life issues; however, as he flagged me down, I felt panic and tension. I did not feel I had even a second to divert my attention to him.
While I kept my eyes on the front door of the abortion center, I tried to listen as he explained about some critical bill coming before the state Senate. He urged me of the absolute necessity of all of us who cared about unborn life to take and pass out these brochures, to contact all our state officials immediately, and then show up at the rally in Raleigh over the weekend. He tried to hand me the stack of brochures.
With immense guilt, I said no. I told him I could not pass out brochures, not to my friends and neighbors, nor to our team members. I could not get on the phone to our officials that afternoon, and I would not be able to attend the rally. His look was a bit withering. I felt like scum of the earth.
He offered to hand out the brochures to my team members himself. I nodded, but as he engaged in conversation with them, I was increasingly distraught. Babies were dying, moms were not being addressed, and the conversations went on and on.
I have struggled with the tension and guilt I felt at that moment until very recently I mentioned it to my friend and mentor, Daniel. He immediately recognized the issue as the tension between the good and the best.
My story is one of many examples of the tyranny of the good. Every day I get “urgent messages” talking about how I MUST drop everything and read some article, or protest some bill, or call some politician, or knock on doors and hand out these valuable documents.
The requests are all good. They are all important. They are all worthy endeavors. But what they fill me with is panic. I CANNOT be the sidewalk counselor God called me to be and do ALL THAT too without becoming a crispy burnt out critter.
Perhaps some people can. I cannot.
We need to be careful to understand that the enemy of the best is the good.
No one can do all things well. Something will be sacrificed if we try to be all things to all people. So how can we discern what requires our attention in the sea of good, and what we need to let float away? Here are some principles to discern what is best:
Be in God’s Word and heed His calling
God is not calling us to be frazzled and overextended. This is evident over and over again in scripture when God appoints leaders. Moses needed help, Elijah needed help. Jesus Himself appointed twelve disciples to shoulder the burden of reaching the world with the Gospel. Elders and deacons assist the management of the church. God knows that we have a unique calling and we must be true to that calling and delegate others or leave to others necessary tasks we cannot humanly complete well.
We must focus on our calling. But how do we know what that is? The first step in knowing our calling is to be prayerful and in the Word. Talk to other Godly people. Once we know our calling, anything that keeps us from that calling no matter how good it may be is not where our energy should be directed.
If God has called you to a specific mission, let that be your focus. God has called me to the sidewalk. He has not called me to the political arm of pro-life work. He has not called me to wrangle the strategy of abolition vs. incrementalism. He has called me to be a sidewalk counselor and that is often in and of itself almost too much for me to handle! I could be both a lousy sidewalk counselor and a lousier political activist. Or I can be the best sidewalk counselor God has called me to be.
‘God does not expect us to feel guilty over turning away from that which He has not called us to do.’
There are some activities that must pull you from a missionary calling such as sidewalk counseling. Time with God should be first on the list of priorities. Time with and attention to family should be next. Third should be focusing on the calling. Fourth should be time for restorative activities and endeavors that reenergize you and help you to rest and preserve a cushion of peace and renewal. THEN, if you have time, desire and energy, you can attend to the other good things rallying for your attention.
If you do not prioritize you will become a victim of the urgent and lose the ability to embrace the essential. A biblical example that I have often pondered is the lack of physical healing of the multitudes that came to Jesus. He COULD have healed every person alive of the many maladies that He encountered. That seems to me like it would have been GOOD … but it was not His mission. It was not the BEST. He did do some physical healing, but the bulk of His ministry was devoted to how to heal the soul. He chose to prioritize doing the best over the good.
Realize that we cannot do it all
In a challenging and very difficult ministry like sidewalk counseling, it may be impossible to take on other tasks. I am increasingly realistic in the burdens I can bear. I have limited roles in my local church since so much of my energy is directed to the sidewalk. I am very careful with any involvement politically. I choose what I need to read carefully. I reserve time for rest. There may be people who feel they can do all these things all day and not burn out. I am not that person.
Do not feel guilty or the need to apologize
I may say no to all the good things others ask of me, but I almost always feel bad about it. I feel I need to explain myself and why I cannot do what they feel certain I SHOULD do. Ultimately, we each answer to God … not to each other. No one else should make you responsible for what you are not called by God to be responsible for. We all need to grant each other respect and grace in this. God does not expect us to feel guilty over turning away from that which He has not called us to do.
Oftentimes, the pro-abortion crowd will accuse us of being hypocrites if we advocate for the unborn but do not also adopt children, do not do foster care, or do not clothe and house the homeless. We have to be careful not to fall into the same trap of illogical conclusions. We CAN focus on one specific calling. We CAN leave other ministry endeavors to others who are called to those fields.
Rejoice and excel in your calling
The antidote to guilt in not doing all things is to rejoice in what God has specifically gifted and called you to do. It is a privilege to be used by God. He has uniquely made each one of us. No one can be the sidewalk counselor Vicky was called to be. And Vicky cannot be the uniquely gifted sidewalk counselor Marybeth is called be. I cannot be the fiery political activist that Matt has been called to be. We all need to rejoice and excel in what God had called us specifically to be.
God gives this message clearly in the analogy of the body of Christ compared to the parts of the body. A finger cannot be a toe. Both are necessary and both have a unique and complementary role in the optimal function of the body. The toe should never feel guilty no matter how often the finger wags at him for not helping to carry in the groceries. Cut off the toe and how quickly you will see the wagging finger and the groceries crash to the floor (See 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 about our individuality in the body of Christ!).
Rejoice that God has equipped each to the task He has uniquely set before them – and give Him all the glory and praise.