Life Beyond J-O-Y
by Pat Means
I remember the first time I was
exposed to the philosophy that taking care of your own needs is
sinful. I was ten years old. It was Vacation Bible School, and there,
amidst the clutter of Kool-Aid and plaster plaques of praying hands,
Mrs. Kleinsapper was explaining the J-O-Y principle.
"Children," she intoned, "always remember that joy is
spelled J-O-Y. The only way to be happy in life, the only way to
please God, is to put Jesus first, others second, and yourself
Since then, I've heard the same philosophy sounded in a thousand
different sermons on the sinfulness of selfishness. It's not the kind
of philosophy that a Christian finds easy to challenge. It's rather
like questioning the sacredness of motherhood or the divinity of Jesus
Christ. Programming against the "S" word has been so strong
that the mere hint that a particular action is selfish is enough to
intimidate most Christians today.
The J-O-Y approach to life presents a special problem for Christians
in recovery. We often find that our attempts to take care of ourselves
are branded as nothing more than unrepentant narcissism. According to
the J-O-Y principle, unhappiness and pain are to be treated by
forgetting about our own needs and giving ourselves totally to the
needs of others.
ONE COUPLE'S STRUGGLE
I received a letter from a gifted young couple a few years ago
describing their own struggle with the J-O-Y principle. Bill and Ann
were Sunday School superintendents and youth group sponsors in their
church. But they were also the parents of young children, and when
their involvement in Bible studies and other church activities reached
four nights a week, they went to their pastor and his wife.
"We need to cut back on our responsibilities," they shared.
"We feel it's harming our family life."
At this point the pastor's wife burst into tears. "How can you
possibly say that three or four nights a week is too rough for
you," she sobbed, "when five nights out is a good week for
Thoroughly shamed, Bill and Ann resumed their pace for several more
months until serious cracks developed in their marriage and family.
That's when they finally went to their pastor and told him they were
"We want to love the things we do for God," they told him.
"But at the current pace we will soon hate everything we are
doing. And we don't want to risk hating Him as well."
Christians in recovery will almost certainly need to take some time
off from the front lines of service in order to heal - its part of
accepting the fact that we're human, that we have limitations and
needs that can be ignored only at our own peril.
When Elijah fled from Jezebel in I Kings chapter 19 and sank into a
suicidal depression, the Lord didn't rebuke him for his lack of faith
or his lack of dedication. In fact, God didn't attempt to treat his
depression with a spiritual solution at all. He sent an angel with
food and told Elijah to eat and sleep - and when he woke up, to eat
and sleep again.
Jesus took time out from serving others to rest and to be alone. He
knew the value of having boundaries - that if you give until the cup
is dry, you'll soon have nothing left to give at all.
CHRISTIANS WITHOUT CRACKS
The J-O-Y principle is based on a faulty model. It's based on a model
of Christians without cracks, super-beings who have no needs of their
own and thus are free to give unstintingly of themselves to others.
But that's not God's view of us. While loving us and believing in us,
He knows we have needs. Hebrews chapter 4 tells us that Jesus our high
priest sympathizes with our weaknesses because he lived in a human
body, too. And Psalm 103 says that God has compassion on us just as a
father has compassion on his children because He "knows our
frame," and knows "that we are but dust".
You see, the J-O-Y principle is not only based on a faulty view of
what it means to be a Christian, but on a faulty view of God as well.
Our God is not a demanding taskmaster who resents us taking time to
meet our own needs. He's a compassionate father who wants us to learn
to take care of ourselves.
But learning to take care of ourselves is no easy task. It means
learning to say "no" to the addictive allure of always being
there for everyone else. We may have to put up with disapproval, or
even harsh criticism when we begin saying "no" to those
who've always heard "yes" from us before.
My own addiction to work and to people-pleasing was so strong that it
took the complete breakdown of my life and ministry before I was
forced in weakness to reshape my lifestyle to better meet my own
needs. Now, on the other side of it all, I don't know why I let the
J-O-Y principle tyrannize my life as long as it did.
I've found that it is possible to love God with all your heart and
also to live a rich, deeply-satisfying life. There is time to serve
others and also time for play and rest and creativity and wonder - the
kinds of things that keep our cups so full that we have more than
enough to share with others.
I don't know about you, but that's the kind of joy I really want.
Go to more articles from Patrick
Means in STEPS Magazine
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