Wednesday, January 11, 2012

To do it badly


Sometimes I just can't figure things out. I've been pondering over one particular issue for the past 6 months and I still have not come to any concrete conclusions. Maybe you all will have some insight for me?

This is the scenario. Over the past few years, after we added baby #3 and then baby #4 to our family, I have been struggling more and more to keep up with commitments outside the home. Eric and I place a lot of importance on giving back and serving in our community; and, over the 11 years of our marriage, we have been actively involved in a number of ministries and organizations. But, with the increasing demands of our home and family, I was being stretched rather thin. No longer could I serve competently and effectively. Every job or responsibility I had was only getting my partial attention and I was just doing them badly.

I felt like a failure. I couldn't seem to keep up with the simplest of commitments and each time I failed I got more angry and frustrated. I felt like I was disappointing everyone around me. Being a person who had always excelled in life previously (that is, in school and at work before I had children), I did not like the person I was becoming--someone who was not dependable.

Finally, I decided it was time for me to pull back and step away from all the ministries I loved. It was not an easy decision.

But, time went on and slowly things around our home began to improve. Clara grew from an demanding infant to an independent toddler and stopped nursing. I figured out a few organizational tricks to help run the house more smoothly. I got more rest.

And after a time, I felt I was ready to start serving again.

I was, however, very concerned about over doing it. I really felt called to help with an organization that means a lot to our family and I carefully and prayerfully discerned what role I could commit to, and still do well in that organization, without taking away from my family or making myself into a crazy person. Whatever I did, I didn't want to do it badly.

But, somehow I was assigned two jobs instead of just the one I planned. I protested but no one took my objections seriously. I felt belittled for not willingly taking on the extra work (all the others there were busy, too, they said, and they were willing to sacrifice for the good of the organization) and I came home from that meeting in tears. I didn't want to go back to that place--the place of doing things badly.

I was very angry about the situation for much longer than I would like to admit. At first, I had the very bad attitude that I would do the job, but not do it well, and they would just get the minimum amount of work out of me, just out of spite. It sounds so childish, I know, and I hate to admit it about myself, but it's the truth. Finally, after lots of prayer and discussion with Eric (how he had patience with me endlessly describing how ill-treated I was, I'll never know), I got over myself and decided that if I'm going to do a job then I'm going to try to give it my all. Then I had a big epiphany:

Maybe God was using this situation to humble me and teach me to accept the responsibilities given to me, even if that meant doing them badly.

Would God do that? Give you a task that you very well might fail? For a perfectionist like myself, someone who tends to not start things unless I can see them perfectly through to completion in an organized and timely manner, maybe he was. Maybe my perfectionism is a form of pride--a pride I need to conquer if I'm to become a better version of myself. A version that merits heaven.

So, I'm giving it my best and my best hasn't been good enough a few times. I've failed at some tasks, and it felt awful when I did. But, I'm still moving forward, still striving to do a good job and striving to not be too hard on myself when I fail. Sometimes I may do things badly. Maybe that's for the best?

But, (there's always a but, isn't there?) there's another volunteer that I'm working with who is doing her job badly. She's way over-committed and misses about half of the meetings and can't be relied upon to do any planning or preparation. I have to admit, it's very frustrating to work with her as her failures make so much more work for the rest of us; and, I get frustrated at my own frustration because I know my own failures are probably causing the same sort of frustrations for other members of the organization.

So the question is: When you volunteer for a ministry, should you only do so if you can do the job well? Is doing the best that you can, even if it's not up to standards, good enough? If you can't do a job well, should you step aside and make room for someone else to step up who can do a better job? What if there isn't anyone else?


Jill said...

This sounds so familiar. I always end up volunteering for things because I get all excited and think I could really do a good job and use my skills. And then I always end up saying to Paul, "Why did I do that again!?"
In Luxembourg I ended up as a Children's Liturgy teacher because I felt bad that the same guy was doing it every week and needed a break once in awhile. I offered to be his substitute when needed but quickly got roped into much more. I am just like you in that when I put myself out there I don't want to just do an ok job. So, just for the little Children's Liturgy on Sundays I would spend hours planning the lesson, printing off prayers and activities and planning nice crafts for the kids. Every time I kept telling myself to just do the basic lesson...
I don't know if I even have an answer for this thought-provoking question. I do know that so many times I have volunteered for things and I have never been able to just do the minimum required. I'm not saying that is good. I just couldn't. It would stress me out. I volunteered to lead a MOMs group at church and I put way more preparation in than needed. I volunteered to be a room mom in Lux and was constantly communicating with moms and planning more than I needed to.

I guess I've learned a couple of things and they probably don't even answer the question at all. First, I realized that I can be an assistant, but I can NOT commit to leading anything. Partly because what I've realized about myself is that I am just not cut out to be a leader. I am much better behind the scenes. But, also, I can't handle the pressure of being in charge of something. I'm in charge of five kids and a house and that's more than enough.
(However, as a side I learned in Lux, when you just volunteer to 'help' you can quickly get put in charge of more than you wanted).
I also learned that if the family suffers I have to step back. I made a point to volunteer for nothing right now and have even told a couple of friends, "Don't let me get sucked in!" Right now with a baby and four others I am just not in a position to accept much outside of the home. I volunteered to be on ONE committee that occasionally asks for baked goods. I can certainly bake cookies once a month.

So, none of this really answers your question. But, I do understand the feelings surrounding all of this.
Good luck discerning it all.

Mellodee said...

Colleen, the answer to your dilemma is to say NO. From the way you described your situation you were pushed into doing more than you had time or inclination to do. And then felt like a failure because you weren't able to accomplish the job to your usual standards. I believe the failure is on the part of those who manipulated you into doing what they wanted you to do rather than accepting your stated limits! The work the organization does is important I'm sure. But all volunteer organizations need more help. They pretty much always take on more than they can do, and they end up pushing people into doing so much that they end up pulling out and not doing anything.

(Been there, done that.)

The thing is as important as any cause is (and that includes Church stuff too), no one but you knows what you are capable of, have time for, and can do with a giving heart. Their expectations of you, should not drive your effort. You have four children under 9 (or something like that)and a husband for heaven's sake. If each of them gets an hour and a half of your attention every day, that adds up to 7 1/2 hours a day! That is what they call, in the business world, a full-time job! And then there is the cooking, household tasks on top of that. Of course, there is (or should be) the time you need to devote to caring for yourself and other members of your family or friends. Your most important responsibilities are to yourself, your children, your family, and then whatever you wish to do with any remaining time that you have. That might or might not include your church work, it is your choice. And NO ONE has the right to demean you for not taking on more. Your kids will get older and your life will become more open one day. Then, if you wish, you can become more involved to whatever level YOU feel comfortable with. But others who try to make you feel guilty for not doing more, are neither acting in a good Christian (and Catholic) way, nor are they being realistic. They are not the ones to worry about. Saying "No, I cannot do that." is not wrong. Doing one part of a project is helpful too.

I really don't think God is in the business of "setting us up". You have free will, go ahead and use it. You know what you are capable of, what you feel comfortable with, and what you are willing to do....and trusting that is OK! It's a matter of priorities and that giving heart thing.....

Sorry if I ranted, this touched a nerve!


Colleen said...

I know what you mean! I was raised to do my best so I put a lot of time and energy into my volunteering activities. Unfortunately, I also put so much pressure on myself that I can end up neglecting my family because I feel like I HAVE to do a good job. But, I'm not a leader either. I'm much happier and more effective as a worker bee.

It touched a nerve with me, too! As I said, I was very hurt by the whole thing. I should be the one deciding what commitments are best for my family, not someone else. What really hurt was that these women are my friends and most of them have lots of kids (5+) but their kids are a little older and they seem to have forgotten how hard it is with the little ones. I really hope that several years down the road when my kids are older that I remember this and never make another mother feel the way I was made to feel.

Christine said...

Colleen, I don't have any long deep thoughts, although I've been thinking about your post since I first read it. When it comes to ministry I remember what someone told me as an over commited high school student, but still holds true as I still over commit.

God never drops the ball, even if you do. Even if you were supposed to do a better job and failed...God doesn't fail, so He has a plan for every ministry and how to reach every soul. So you shouldn't feel bad if you can't do it.

Colleen said...

Thanks, Christine. That's really good food for thought.