[#write31days] Day 8 Everything for the Kingdom

Welcome to Day 8 of #write31days! 
For more information check out the series’ page

“We’re in need of a piano player for Sunday worship. Can you please help out?”
“You’re really good with devotions/children’s ministry/insert whatever ministry in here. We would love to have you fulltime for this.”

Are you familiar with these last-minute emails?
Just a small task. Just a little more giving. Because hey, it’s all for the kingdom of God and you certainly can’t hold back now.

I have been to quite a few churches and I always got more involved. For me, church is more than just going there on Sundays and enjoying a two-hour worship and sermon performance. It’s about the people serving together, sharing life together. The church is the living body of Christ, so we are so supposed to live and work together. 
But “serving and living together” can easily become a burden if we are not aware of its limitations and set appropriate boundaries.

We all have been given certain gifts that we should use to serve God and others. A musical person who never plays an instrument is missing out on the blessings coming from music. An encourager who never opens his mouth will not see how his words uplift others. A teacher who never shares the word with others will never see that lightbulb going on in someone else’s head. The one who stays away will never experience the gift of community. 8a
Getting involved in various church ministries is a good way to connect with people. Giving will result in being given, I have experienced that. But sometimes we give too much. We invest in several places at the same time. Working with people especially can be tough because they don’t function like machines. They have their own thoughts, miss appointments, let you down.
Serving will drain energy. And if you give without ever receiving, you’ll burn out. Your talents are no longer used to bless others, they rather feel like being thrown away without anything in return.

Leave Your Brain Outside
In a normal church, after some worship and announcements comes the core element of the service: the sermon.
It is very easy to leave church feeling all good or moved or encouraged. Simply soaking up all the stories that remind you of better times.
It is very convenient to shut off your brain and just relax because the preacher won’t get to you anyway. Just take his words for granted, I mean he went to bible school, so he must know, right?
I am a digger (some also call me a nerd), I love to dive into things, explore different facets of words and concepts. So I always appreciate a preacher who doesn’t just touch my feelings, but gives me food for thought. I admire what others can grind out of a passage, how they inspire me even though I have read a text so many times before. But most of all, I enjoy preachers who make me want to go home and read my bible for myself. Who don’t spoonfeed me like a small child, but push me to question, to doubt, to learn. I benefit from other people’s wisdom and insight, but I am allowed, yes even challenged, to use my own brain and develop a personal relationship with God outside the church.

8b‘Church Work’
Not all of us are pastors, youth ministers, or worship leaders. Most of us have ‘normal’ jobs during the week and go to church on Sunday. Because we have these two different things going on we sometimes tend to separate our lives into two spheres: the worldly and the holy. These two can’t go together, so we have worldly and church friends, wordly and church personalities, wordly and church work.
For the last three years I’ve been part of a European Youth Movement inspiring and equipping young people to live a missional lifestyle. One major tool to do that is a bi-annual congress with more than 3000 people from all over Europe coming together to celebrate New Year’s, learning from God and each other, being inspired to serve. It is an immense blessing seeing and working with so many different people! But of course, organizing such a big event is a lot of work, a lot of ‘church work’. Tons of emails and requests, endless spreadsheets and logistics, many unexpected problems. All next to graduating from university and having a life. So what did I do? I wrote these emails and dealt with these problems on Sundays because it was ‘church work’. The day of rest was filled with work. Everything for the kingdom.
Well, to make it short, it worked for a while. But very soon I felt empty, burned out. I even got sick. My hands were in pain, I couldn’t type anymore, my back was sore. I gave everything, but could not go on.

Jesus wants us to have abundance, to thrive, but His life will not break through if we bury it in work, no matter how holy and churchy it may be.

How do you spend your Sundays?
What kind of jobs do you have in your church? How do you feel about them?

[#write31days] Day 7 Friendships at a Junction

Welcome to Day 7 of #write31days! 
For more information check out the series’ page

When we are a few years old it is time for us to leave the fold of the immediate family and expand our world. We enter kindergarten, then school, university, apprenticeships, work…
Along the way we meet many new people from all kinds of backgrounds with all kinds of lifestyles, likes and dislikes, and personalities. Some of them move on, sometimes we move on. Some of them leave a mark on our lives. Some of them we call friends.
Sometimes these friendships can be really tough. As if we were traveling on a road together, suddenly hitting a T-junction with a one-and-only decision: Where does our friendship go from here? 
I’ve had a few of these junction in my life lately, and they made me wonder about the different natures and kinds of friends. What are potential problems in friendships where we need to set boundaries?


Please note: This is not a rant against personal friends or people in particular, it is rather trying to point out underlying principles by means of exaggeration (and a tiny bit of black humor).

The Phone that Never Stops Ringing
We all need friends, people who take an interest in us, share their lives with us, want to spend time with us. We all want to feel needed. 
But sometimes it can all become too much. 
When you feel exhausted and all you want is someone who listens to you, it can be a real challenge to have coffee with someone who talks about nothing else but themselves.
When you’re laden with questions and sorrows the least thing you can handle are friends dumping all their problems on you.
People taking it for granted that you’re always there to help. Grown-ups  expecting you to take care of them all the time.
May it be picking them up every weekend after a night of partying.
May it be solving relationship issues for them.
May it be you doing work for them because they don’t even ask if you’re free to do it. Isn’t that what friends do?
May it be always being available, no matter how late it is. You end up sleep-deprived because someone kept you up for something “really important”. You end up putting your life on hold because someone else has claimed your attention, your time, your soul.  

The point of friendship is to be there for each other, especially when it gets hard. This doesn’t involve taking over each other’s lives.

7aAll Alone out there
I’m a very giving person, I like to invest in people. Lots of my time is filled with writing emails, skyping or calling people all over the world. I like to connect because I like friends.
Last year this became really hard because my time was taken up with studying. I had moved too much, had to say goodbye way too often. It got really hard and tyring to keep in touch with everyone. Emails became rare, skype dates almost impossible to schedule.

There were days, sometimes even weeks without a word from friends. Nothing.
Days when the word ‘friend’ on Facebook sounds like a spit in your face.
That feeling of emptiness filling your soul.
Loneliness creeping up until it feels your room, your apartment, your heart.
The battle between bitterness, hatred, and sadness raging in your soul. 
The overwhelming fear that you’re all alone out there, that everyone has left you. 
Where are all the people I have invested in?
Do none of my ‘investments’ pay off?
Where are friends when you need them most?
Can I be on the receiving end for once when I’ve been giving for months and years?
Such lonely days can easily lead to a whole lot of questioning, desperation, fear, and anger. A downward spiral that can drag you down if you don’t fight against it.

Who are the people walking with you in life?
Do you rather give or take in friendships?
When does it become really hard for you to stay friends with others? 

[#write31days] Day 6 Work to Live – Live to Work?

Welcome to Day 6 of #write31days! 
For more information check out the series’ page

Debates about work hours. Simply too much to do in too little time. Demonstrations for more pay. Always too little holidays. When most people think of work, they associate something negative with it.
Yet, even though we often complain about our work it is actually a good invention. Work was created for a good purpose.

I am not saying we should stop working all together or work 24-7. But maybe we should think a little bit about what work actually is and what makes it so ‘dangerous’ in our lives.
When you talk to older people who have been retired for a while, you can sometimes hear, “I miss it.” I’m sure they don’t mean the long working hours, the bad pay, or the rude boss. They miss the sense of getting up in the morning, having a destination to go to. The feeling of being needed somewhere. The satisfaction that comes from a day’ work with obvious results.
People who don’t do anything anymore are not at peace or completely rested. They feel lost. Without a purpose. At the verge of losing themselves.

What we do is a big part of who we are. We express our identity and personality through our movement, our emotions, our hands’ work.
But what we do should not define who we are. Otherwise you’ll lose yourself as soon as you stop doing what you’re doing.

In a world that revolves around busy schedules, timetables, meetings, and revenues, work seems to be the greatest virtue. A good worker is an eager, productive, and always-available worker.
How about that co-worker asking you for help on a project? You certainly can’t turn him down because you like your job and you don’t to disappoint your co-worker.
How about your boss asking you to stay longer because you’re simply the best for the job? Of course you’ll do it. Come on, it’s your boss and you can’t refuse. Being the best at something is quite the reputation you don’t want to risk losing. And trust me, it does feel good to be the go-to person, to see your name on pamphlets and invitations, to hear others talk about you with that certain ‘awe’.
We work because we want to please others. We don’t stop working because our reputation, our identity, our self is on the line. Our work is who we are. 

In a world of linked devices, cloud accounts, and constant connection it’s almost impossible to escape work. You might leave the office, but you don’t leave work. There’s always something you can do from home, always an email you can answer from your smartphone on your way to something else. Work consumes our time, our thoughts, our hearts.
Yes, the thought of rest, the wish to just walk away from it all comes up once in a while, but is brushed away by fear of losing touch.

Articles on characteristics of Generation Y mention that while people are always on the move and have more choices than ever before, they are mostly driven by fear. Fear of losing, of missing out. The Guardian even called it an addiction: FOMA (fear of missing out). Whether it’s people’s attention and love, whether it’s better pay or a conference, or just a brilliant opportunity – we are driven by fear and insecurity. We don’t rest in who we are but try to compensate this void with work. Instead of finding ourselves we allow others to define who we are and what we’re supposed to do.

We can go on like this for a while without seeing any problems, we can work like crazy and chase our dreams. But the increasing numbers of burned-out workers, emotional breakdowns and people with no resilience indicate that this is not the life we’re supposed to live forever. If we don’t establish healthy boundaries when we’re young we won’t reap any fruits when we’re old.

Think about your work: How many hours per day are you busy for your job? How are the relationships to your boss and co-workers?
How often do you take off from work – switch off computer, phone etc.? 

[#write31days] Day 5 Family Ties

Welcome to Day 5 of #write31days! 

For more information check out the series’ page

Ending up completely exhausted and at the verge of burnout does not happen out of the blue or from one day to the next. It is a process with a lot of missing boundaries or missed opportunities to set them. So let’s take a closer look at what kind of boundary issues we can have in our lives.

The people we meet at the earliest stage of our lives is our family. They are closest to us, they love us, but they can also cause us a lot of hurt. Whether it is our parents who call all the time, our siblings who depend on us, or our own inability to let go. Of course, family also includes the extended family and their influence, but for now, let’s focus on the closest family members. 

The Parents
Your mom and dad are the ones who welcome you into this world, they raise you into adulthood, they observe as you take your first steps into your own life – whether you want it or not, you can’t not have parents.
Yet, the relationship is not always ideal.
I guess we all have some image in our minds when we think of the term ‘overbearing mother’ (or maybe smother?). A mom who won’t let her favorite kid go anywhere, who won’t take any risks. A dad who makes all the decisions simply because “he knows best”. Parents who have a really hard time seeing their kid off to university; an own apartment seems to be the same as cutting them off from their lives. As a child (or rather young adult) it’s really hard to explore your new life because you still feel bound and controlled by your home. 
This feeling does not necessarily end after a few years or when you have your own family. The ties of frantic parents calling after you and offering advice on everything and anything can reach way into your adulthood.

While some may complain about too much interference, others might actually appreciate a bit more family in their lives. Family bonds in a child’s life are formed from day one, and they are essential for a healthy emotional and spiritual development. A lack thereof will have longlasting effects on a child that are often underestimated.
Some will grow numb and close themselves off from their families. They set up boundaries to protect themselves from getting hurt – maybe even so far that they really struggle to trust anyone with a deeper relationship. I have talked to quite a few friends about this and it pains me to hear about their broken relationships with their families.
Some will continue to chase the attention they might never get. They change and conform and perform, without any luck. Every attempt will just leave them empty, disappointment, and hopeless.


The Siblings
Unless you’re an only child, you were automatically born into a hierarchy. Oldest child. The one(s) in the middle. The baby. And surprisingly, without ever really choosing it, each position comes with a certain role to fill. The more I think about my own position and talk to others about theirs, the more I am amazed how this is an unspoken fact and people just fall into place!
I am the firstborn in my family with two younger siblings. I have never officially claimed that position, but it does come with responsibilities. When we were younger I was the one to watch my brother and sister when the parents were out. I had to look after the money whenever we went out by ourselves. Until today I am the go-to person for advice or help.
Firstborns are the ones with responsibility, the middle ones are the wild and crazy ones, the youngest are the spoiled babies. So goes the saying.
What does this have to do with boundaries?

There is a time for children to be close to their parents and their siblings. There is a time to stay within the home and maintain that close community. However, there is also a time to leave and build a home of your own. This can get difficult if you’re too attached to your role in the hierarchy without ever setting any boundaries.
Firstborns will always feel responsible for their siblings and never really leave (I don’t mean you should stop caring, but you need to cut a few ties when you move out). Instead of building a life of their own and making new friends they come home often. Instead of stepping onto new grounds they rather hide in the comforts of the familiar.
Younger siblings will never take responsibility for themselves because they’ll always rely on some family member to fix it. They don’t feel confident nor challenge themselves to unleash their potential because they feel smothered by the ‘perfect’ older brothers and sisters. 

If you never step outside the role you occupy within your family, you’ll never discover new facets and depths that are still hidden in your self.

Think about your own family: How is your relationship to your parents? What position do you have in your family? What does your role look like in your family? 

[#write31days] Day 3 The Breakdown

Welcome to Day 3 of #write31days! 
For more information check out the series’ page

I was doing too much, my back and my wrists had been telling me for months. Studying, preparing congresses and camps, typing thousands of words per day. Sleeping too little and eating at unhealthy times.
Thinking I could do it all. 

When I look back I sometimes marvel how I managed to do as much as I did. I guess a good portion of adrenaline and a great amount of God’s grace strengthened and saw me through.
When I look back I always knew it all had to come to an end some day. Sooner or later.

Over New Year’s I could see the congress I’d been working on for a year come to life – what an experience! Despite a lack of sleep and constant running I got to know the sweetest people who blessed me with their work, their jokes, and their encouragement. I was worn out, but I was happy.
Right after I had to get back to my books and study for my finals. Five years of studies came to an end with written and oral exams in February and April. I couldn’t complain about the results.
I was done. The stress was over. I could get back to my life.

A week after finals I went to lead a TCK camp. No matter how exhausted or busy I was, these camps had always been a time to refresh and have fun. These people were my second family.
But this time it was different. I came completely empty, not ready to give anything. Nothing. 

day2aWhen it was time to meet and have fun, I wanted to run and be alone. When it was time to dig into the Word and talk about it, I wondered if all of this even made sense. I had my facade ready to show off, but behind it there was emptiness. Nothing.
I started leading worship, trying to brush over it with music, but I couldn’t.
Instead of adoration there was disgust.

Instead of love there was hatred. For the people in front of me, for the musicians next to me, for the words of the songs that meant nothing to me at the moment.

I had to get out. 

So I did. I cut the song short, got up from the piano and ran.
In tears. Horrified by who I was at that moment. That stranger in my skin I didn’t know anymore.

I lost it that day.
The strength to go any further.
The passion for what I love to do.
The love and emotional energy to give to others.
The ability to let others pour into me.
The eyes to see how wonderful the world is. 
The heart that seeks the Lord in good and bad times.

Yet, I somehow mustered up the courage to tell a friend about it. It was good to hear, “You’re not alone in this. It’s time to stop and rest. It’s time to change.” 
She was right. Something had to change.

Have you ever felt like you ‘lost’ it? In what circumstances was it more difficult for you to feel passion and energy for God, other people, or your job?  

[#write31days] Day 1 Welcome to My Life

Welcome to Day 1 of #write31days!
For more information check out the series’ page

A day sometime in August 2013.
My alarm clock rings at 6.30 am. Before I get out of bed my mind is wide awake, making mental notes of everything I have to do today. 
I make myself a cup of coffee and by 7am I am at my desk, ready to work. The early morning hours are the only time of day I am somewhat productive. I finish writing a paper for my professor, then move on to my daily reading chores for my master’s thesis. The amount of notes grows and grows and in the back of mind I worry a bit how I will ever fit all of this in comprehensive sentences.
By 10 am I take a breakfast break and rub my wrists which slowly start to itch. This pain has become my companion in the last few busy months. Your state board exams with a double degree sure don’t come easy.

The afternoon is reserved for responding to emails. Despite my full university schedule I joined a team to organize a Europe-wide youth congress over New Year’s. This meant about 50 emails to respond to per day. Most of them with good questions or encouragements. Some of them with complaints and impossible requests.
My hands are in pain by now, my back begs me to stop, but I keep going.


Concentration is harder to maintain now, so I keep getting distracted by social media. As I scroll down the page I see pictures of the perfect wedding, the perfect first baby, the perfect date, the perfect vacation in paradise.
I sigh. What am I doing here? Sitting and working, while others are living their lives.

The phone rings. A guy from church asks if I could lead worship in church on Sunday. I say yes because there’s no one else who could do it.

I get back to my emails. I am responsible for a TCK camp in October and haven’t prepared anything yet. Another busy weekend, but spending time with TCKs is like being with family, so I agreed to do it.

A friend texts me and asks if I want to meet up tonight, but I say no. I am just too busy. As much as I miss the company of people in the midst of busyness, I am way too exhausted to even see someone else.

Around 8 pm I start packing because I’ll visit my family tomorrow. Haven’t seen them in a while, so it’s time. There seems to be trouble at home, and I should come to ‘fix it.’

I check my phone, but there are no new messages or emails. A day without human interaction. My depressed self thinks, “No one really cares.” My angry self thinks, “Why doesn’t anyone respond when I need them the most?” My sad self leaves disappointed.

At 10 pm I start cooking and have dinner while watching an episode of some show I don’t even remember the name of. My wrists are covered in ice packs, the only way to deal with the pain.

All I want is to sleep and get ready to do it all over again tomorrow.

How does a ‘normal’ day in your life look like? How much do you do for others? What do you for yourself and for pleasure? 

[Disclaimer: Some of the following might sound a bit exaggerated. But all of this is true. Even though not of all this took place on one single day, it serves as an example of what a life without boundaries might look like.]