In the midst of busy seasons of life, the weight of everything I’ve committed to and everything that has been placed in my lap often becomes overwhelming. I run out of hours in the day, I’ve done without sleep a few (or a thousand) times too many, and my emotional stability deteriorates. I begin making mistakes in the projects I’ve taken on, and I sometimes have to wrap up projects before I feel they’re truly done.
In these times, I feel like I’m letting everyone down. I’m not living up to my full potential in my work, I’m not giving anyone the attention and care they deserve, and my “time with God” is lacking. I feel like I’m not being faithful in anything.
My guess is that you can relate, even if you wouldn’t state it quite so dramatically.
The best advice I’ve received for these times in life came from our (Eternity’s) president, Joshua Walker. I’ll recount my version of his advice in the following paragraphs.
Only you and God know everything that’s on your plate. When you’re in a busy season like this, you will legitimately be letting people down. They’ve asked you to complete certain projects and you’re not getting them done on the timeline or with the quality that’s expected of you. But the people you’re letting down don’t know everything you’re dealing with at the moment.
For example, my students may be submitting papers that don’t reflect their full potential. I may be disappointed with my students, and their grade will reflect this. But only God knows the full extent of what each person is handling.
Here’s something we know but struggle to believe: It doesn’t matter what other people think of you.
My students don’t need to please me. They need to please God. And if being faithful to God in the totality of their life means that they won’t have time to complete an assignment, my displeasure does not necessarily reflect God’s displeasure. My students are letting me down, but they may not be letting God down. (This line of thinking can be applied to every area of life: Letting down your boss, spouse, friends, kids, or students may not always mean letting God down.)
In the Christian worldview, success is not defined by productivity, profitability, or positive feedback. From a worldly perspective, Jonah was phenomenally successful. He went to Nineveh kicking and screaming, and pouted through the end of the story. But he preached a simple message and a wicked civilization turned to God in an epic revival. From a worldly perspective, Jeremiah was a terrible failure. Though he preached faithfully and did everything God asked of him, his life’s work failed to produce a single convert.
In modern terms, you want to be successful like Jonah, not insignificant like Jeremiah. But we know that biblically speaking, Jonah is the cautionary tale and Jeremiah is the success story.
Biblical success is all about faithfulness to God. Jeremiah was a huge success because he remained faithful to God, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
Success in God’s eyes may look like failure in the world’s eyes. You may be letting everyone down. Your life may be an obvious failure by virtually every definition of that term. You may even feel like a failure yourself.
But there is only one person you need to please: God. And he is already pleased with you. If you are doing your best with your time and resources at the moment, it doesn’t matter what praise or promotions or grades you get. If you are wearing yourself out as you seek to glorify God by doing your best in the midst of an impossible situation, then you are succeeding. You may not be getting “the job” done, but God knows everything that’s on your plate. It doesn’t matter if everyone you know and love thinks you’re lazy, or incompetent, or scatterbrained. God knows. And he couldn’t possibly love you more.
God knows you better than you do. He knows what you’re capable of, even though you constantly mis-assess your abilities. He knows how much (or how little) you can get done, even when your own timelines are unrealistic. And he is pleased with you.
God wants you to be faithful, not superhuman. So if faithfulness is your goal, and if you’re pursing faithfulness with every resource God has given you, then you are a huge success—even if you’re failing.
Now, it could be that your stress and your overwhelming schedule are symptoms of your idolatrous pursuit of something other than God. Don’t waste your exhaustion; search your heart to see what needs to change. You may well be taking on more than you should in an effort to reach some unbiblical standard of success. You may be letting people down because you are prideful or lazy.
But as you examine your heart, carefully redirect your pursuits back to God. Make every effort to be faithful to him in the commitments you’ve made in your family life, in your church, in your job, in your schoolwork. And if you are striving to be faithful to him, know that he is pleased, know that he knows that you can only do what you can do, and know that that’s enough.