Someone recently shared a current life challenge with me and asked for my advice on it. “I love loving others, but I feel a need to reevaluate boundaries somewhat (a slight rebalancing) because I feel a pull the whole time. I need to be intentional to make room for myself and my time with the Lord, taking care of myself as well as responding to the needs of others. What advice would you have for me on this?”
I love the heart behind this question. This person obviously has a heart for people but is realizing her relationships seem to be draining her instead of filling her. We can all relate to this. We don’t want to be selfish, but we do want to be wise and proactive in our connections with people, not foolish and reactive.
“Draining” relationships result from such things as:
Obligation and duty rather than feeling called to the relationship (or to the level the other person wants)
Not having healthy boundaries related to time, money, and privacy
Sincere Christians often feel guilty about prioritizing their own needs. This is understandable because of the many biblical admonitions to love and go the extra mile for people. The problem is that if we are regularly sacrificing our future to meet the current needs of others (which is part of a debt mentality), we will not have longevity or the resources needed to meet the greater needs we are called to meet in the future.
The instructions given before a plane takes off are good to mention here. We are told if the cabin loses pressure, oxygen masks will fall from the ceiling. We are instructed to put our own oxygen mask on before helping others. We won’t be able to help others much if we die because of a lack of oxygen.
Abraham Lincoln said this another way. “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” Many have dull relational axes because they don’t take time to sharpen their life ax through rest, having a good spiritual and personal growth diet, and by building their skill set in how to really be a strength to people.
Once we are convinced it is not wrong to prioritize ourselves, we can move on to some practical wisdom of how to balance our own well-being with making sure we are what the key people in our lives need. Here are five keys to having our relationships fill us instead of draining us:
Know who we are called to – Jesus had the five thousand, the seventy, the twelve, the three, and probably the one (John). He was called to different levels of relationships with these. Even so, He also prioritized his own alone time.
Proactively fill our calendars with “me time” and “God time” – If someone asks you to do something in those times, say, “I already have something planned.”
Clearly define relationships with particularly needy or demanding people – Let them know what season you are in and how much time you believe you have for them. The nature of relationships change. We may be called to make a significant investment in someone for a time, and then our role shifts. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” (I Corinthians 3:6)
Understand it is not our responsibility to keep everyone happy around us – Just because someone is upset with you, it does not automatically mean you are doing something wrong.
Understand the power of saying no to something because we have said yes to a higher thing – This is similar to #2 above, but it bears repeating. Long-lasting effective people spend most of their time in the important but not urgent areas of their lives.
What we are not saying:
We are not saying we do not sacrifice for the needs of others or respond to true emergency needs.
We are not saying people who seem to drain us are bad people.
We are not saying seemingly draining relationships in our lives are always the fault of that person.
Steve Backlund was a senior pastor for seventeen years before joining the team at Bethel Church in Redding, CA in 2008. Steve is a leader developer, joy activist, a revivalist teacher, and as Senior Associate Director, is a key part of the Global Legacy (a ministry of Bethel Church) leadership team. He travels extensively throughout the world encouraging churches and leaders and has authored a number of books.