Overfunctioning Pastors’ Wives. There is Hope
by Cara Soto, M.A.
I was at my absolute wit’s end. “Why do I have to do everything?!?” I mumbled to myself. How in the world did I get to this place? The tough truth was though that I often did tasks for others when my plate was already full because I did not like asking for help. At home I frequently cleaned up the kids’ messes because it took more effort to ask them, instruct them on the right way to do the job, and then wait on them to finish the task. And, well, I liked to be needed: needed by my husband and others, so I would put myself out there as Miss Helpful. I carefully created the reputation of being ‘stable and reliable”. I also noticed that when people would call me whether it was church members or extended family members, I would be quick to call back if they needed some piece of advice or help with a task. However, when they would call to check up on me to see how I was doing, most of the time it would take days for me to answer back.
The Godly Guise
What was I doing? Now I see more clearly that I was “overfunctioning.” When we overfunction we do for others what they can truly do for themselves. Have you ever found yourself doing tasks because you feel you are the only one who can do it right? Do you not trust others to fix things on their own, so you move in to be the fixer and the doer? Maybe you, like me, find your worth in being needed. Often, we as Christian women (and perhaps even more so as pastors’ wives, feel that we are being godly, if we overfill our plate with being helpful. We help the elderly couple down the road with a grocery shopping trip. We run to the church to drop off all the supplies for the potluck that we just bought at Costco. Then we run home and clean and fix dinner for the small group coming over to the house that evening. Somewhere in there, you squeeze in a couple of phone calls to check up on others that you haven’t seen in a while. Did I mention you are doing all this with two kids that are also wanting your attention?
A Dear Sister
Take a moment and take a deep breath. Just recalling and writing the above paragraph stressed me out. I want to remind you of a familiar, and perhaps somewhat frustrating story in the book of Luke. The account starts by saying that Jesus was visiting with his disciples at the home of Martha and Mary. Martha has just finished gathering extra sitting mats for the large group of disciples that followed Jesus, and she has been in the kitchen making sure nothing was burning. Martha, bless her heart, has been up and running for hours and hours trying to get everything finished, making sure every detail was accounted for and that her guests were served well. However, in the midst of this, she realized that her annoying sister is nowhere to be found. She thinks about it, and of course, she finds her sitting at the feet of Jesus. I can see Martha with her hands on her hips, and a huff in her voice as she says, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do everything! Tell her to help me!” In his kind and gentle way, Jesus answers with a look of compassion in his eyes, “Martha, Mary has chosen what is better.”
Consequences of Over Functioning
Hindered Spiritual Walk
There are serious consequences to overfunctioning. When we are so busy, not only do we not have time to read His Word, but we often say a quick hurried prayer and head out the door with no meaningful conversation with God. Overfunctioning causes us to stunt our spiritual growth because we don’t have time to hear from God or get to know him better.
Negative Effects on Others
Overfunctioning also has a dire effect on others: we enable them to underfunction. We feel as if we are helping them out but in reality, we are hindering them from taking responsibility for the very things that will help them grow and mature. So, if I’m always taking care of the kids, keeping the house going, making sure everyone gets to doctor’s appointments, making sure all the homework is done and the kids are getting to their lessons… Ladies, you know what I’m talking about. All the details both big and small are arranged and taken care of by me. So, I now ask myself where and when do I allow my husband to take some of the responsibility that would be good for him and the kids? If I don’t let him help me, if we don’t talk about how to share responsibilities, how is he co-parenting with me? Now, granted I know every situation is different. However, I want to ask, who in your life are you allowing to under function and not experience maturing in their lives because you do it all?
One other big consequence of overfunctioning is resentment. I started to feel this resentment rise in my heart every time I would say ‘Yes’ to a request when I was already tired and overwhelmed. Often, as Christian women, we believe that helping everyone that asks, and saying yes to every need is our duty. However, when we are saying yes to too many people and too many projects, we will start to feel overwhelmed and angry at the person or task that is before us.
There is Hope
How did I slowly move away from overfunctioning? Maybe you don’t see where you are overfunctioning, but you do feel and see the consequences of your actions. The first step is to admit that you are doing for people what they can do for themselves. Next, you will have to start making changes and adjustments. Start by sitting at the feet of Jesus every day. Ask him some brave questions, such as what he wants you to say yes to and when he wants you to use the word ‘no’. Warning! Brace yourself for when you start to say no. People who are used to you doing it all will not like that you are now taking back your life. If that is really tough on you, maybe you will want to see a therapist to help you explore ways in which you are overfunctioning and how to get better at setting those limits. A therapist can also be there as a cheerleader in helping you stand firm when the pushback gets intense.
Getting Your Life Back
Honestly, I don’t do this perfectly. I’m still a recovering overfunctioner, but I can tell you that with the help of God and my counselor, I have found a new freedom to pursue the calling that God has for me. While there have been some bumpy roads, learning to set limits has allowed my family and community to flourish in richer ways because they are empowered to take responsibility for what they need to do. And I have also set an example to my children that sitting at the feet of Jesus is the most important moment in my day.
This is doable, and so worth it. May Jesus help you learn to sit at His feet and trust Him with things that aren’t yours to do.
Feel free to reach out to me if you’re in Florida, or pursue another therapist if you need some more help on the journey.