“I can’t, I can’t let my leader down.” A young student leader a Christian College said to me. We were sitting at the lunch table with the rest of the 10:31 Life Leadership Team discussing the formation of a new position, contemplating hiring this young woman to be our event coordinator. “I have to do this, I can’t say no.” Alfred Hummel says this: “People expect us to be busy, even overworked. Setting aside our own tasks to help others meet a deadline, makes us appreciated, popular. In that activity we gain a sense of security.” Just like the girl sitting across from the leadership team as we urged her to slow down, society has made the word “No” a curse word.
This attitude in two types of people: 1. Those whom have just come out of demand for purity cults where they were unable to rest due to a leaders heavy handed and overwhelming requests. And. 2. Abuse victims who use the busyness to escape having to think about the abuse they have suffered. Abuse victims are especially prone to The Messiah Trap or Burn-Out cycles because of the mentality that can come from a traumatic experience.
For example: I was beat up a lot as a kid, then when things went south at my home church I became the victim of a very subtle, yet destructive form of spiritual abuse. In neither situation did I have much protection, my father was not in the booth on Sunday Mornings to tell the pastor to back off and my mother was not on the playground while I was getting beat up to give the “Mother Bear” speech. So my natural reaction is to protect others, to watch out for the well-being of others. If I see someone being hurt or hurting I want to take that pain on to protect them from it. If I see someone being abused I want to step in. The entire structure of 10:31 Life Ministries is designed to build leaders who are biblically minded and well-rounded to protect people from experiencing what I experienced. This is my Messiah Trap, it is very easy to fall into, saying “No” helps me not fall into it.
A Case study of a young woman revealed that though her childhood was pleasant her parents constantly took people in. In fact, it was almost as if the needs of the children did not matter, they could not be selfish. This caused the children to constantly be caring for everyone in their adult life. Eventually she found that she could not do this anymore, she had fallen into the Messiah Trap.
I protect people, the adults in the case study help people, nothing inherently wrong, but these things can do us harm in too large a dose. Yet there is freedom from the Messiah Trap, whether it came from a traumatic experience like mine or something designed to be good like the aforementioned case study. That freedom starts by saying “No.”
Here we go, a College Freshmen on his first day of college has 30 or 40 different activities screaming at him (at a large college this can be 100-500). Join this club, play this sport, join this Frat, do this, do that. It is very easy to get overwhelmed and get involved in too much. A student who gets involved in too many different activities will most likely have lower grades and is apt to be more tired and miss more classes because of those activities. But the student that learns to say “NO” to all these voices and only joins two or three activities will hopefully be able to find balance between activities and schoolwork.
At 10:31 we try to get people involved in the church. We want our members involved in the community of believers, but we also want them to be healthy. We believe that when Paul says “Each of you should not only look to your own interests, but should look also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:4). He desires for us to find a balance between caring for yourself through spiritual disciplines such as silence, prayer, scripture reading & meditation etc. And to care for the needs and interests of others, “Even the God of the universe rested” Christian George says in his book “Godology.”
We are not God, we cannot go 100 miles per hour all the time. Yet in a society where value is derived from activity we believe that saying “No” is like dropping the “F” bomb in the middle of a elementary school playground. However, if we are to survive we have to learn to turn people down. We must learn to manage our time how God has called us to manage it. We must find balance in our activities and time with our father. Sometimes the best way to make sure we are balanced is to say no.
How does this help us avoid the Messiah Trap?
Saying no allows us to have time to ourselves, time to ourselves means that we get time to focus on God and in doing that we discover where our worth comes from. Donald Mille calls this “The Lifeboat Theory.” The idea being that if four people were stranded on a lifeboat and they ran out of food they would use their merits and social status and activities to make sure they stayed in the lifeboat. But if our value and identity is found in Christ then we will be content to live out whatever God has for us, we get out of the lifeboat and walk on the water with Christ.
Now, we should not be like Tom Hanks character in Castaway either. So withdrawn from the world that it seems to other that we do not exist, as I have said, we must find balance in activity and time with God. Why? Because our identity comes from God and God then uses us to bless others through the work He is doing in our lives when we are focused on Him and have time to focus on Him.
Brad Stine said this in a comedy routine: “When the creator of Matter says that you matter then you have purpose and then you have self-esteem.” When we learn to slow down our lives, say no when we know we are about to be over taxed we can learn the value we have been given by our creator. Then we will escape the Messiah Trap, escape the burn-out cycles we live in and even be more effective then we were before in our ministry. Like Jesus in Mark 1 or Mary in Luke 1, we have to listen to the father, learn from the father and act on what the father has taught us.
We were called to be leaders in the church, healthy and dedicated, let us Take the Lead.