Ministry, Ministry Matters

Ministry Matters: 3 Ways to Accost Your Accomplishment Addiction


“We must not evaluate our spiritual progress based on how many projects we accomplished or deadlines we met today. Our life with God is more like the planting of a garden. When we arise from sowing in the secret place, we will not usually be able to point to immediate results or benefits. What we sow today will require an entire season of growth before the results are manifest.” ~Bob Sorge, Secrets of the Secret Place

I grew up in a home where hard work was a priority. We rarely took vacations and we could almost always be found working together as a family in the gardens and orchard on our property, in the barns with our animals, or in the print shop that my dad operated. I am very thankful for the work ethic that my parents instilled in me, and I hope to pass that along to our children. But this time of sabbatical has caused me to step back and notice my own tendencies toward activity, and my natural resistance to inactivity.

Before sabbatical, I’ve felt that inactivity was equivalent to wasting time. If I got to the end of the day and couldn’t put my finger on what I had accomplished, well then, that must be a wasted day!

Before sabbatical, I only rested when forced to do so by physical limitations or by my husband saying, “You need to rest. It’s ok to sit down and do nothing for awhile.” Truly, the more I’ve developed the discipline of rest in my life, the more it is a balm to my heart, soul, body, and mind.

But oh, how easy it is to slip back into the old mindset of being accomplishment driven! I am seeing a cognitive therapist several times a month, and my sessions with him have revolutionized my awareness of my thought processes. We still have a long way to go with the subconscious (due to PTSD from repeated trauma), but I am now able more than ever to step back and adequately evaluate the conscious- how I am thinking, why I’m thinking that way, and if/how my thoughts need to change.

In the area of accomplishment, I’ve been realizing that I just may have an addiction. And I’ve been floored at how this addiction bleeds into my spiritual life. As I ask God to stop me in my tracks when I’m in a whirlwind of wrong thinking, He answers and so tenderly puts His finger on the problem.

Perhaps no one is more vulnerable to an accomplishment addiction than those of us in full time ministry, specifically pastors’ wives. Not only do we long to see our husbands succeed tangibly, but we desire a life of accomplishment ourselves. We want our time in this country, in this province/state, in this town, in this church, with these people to matter. We want our years, months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds to count! After all, isn’t ministry about making a difference?

Is this a wrong desire? No, not in itself. But when the trials come and the accusations hit hard, and the years stretch on with very little tangible results….when few souls are saved and the numerical growth doesn’t change {or it gets worse}….Well, I for one have found myself turning to the things I could control in order to gain my sense of accomplishment.

I can do X amount of laundry today.

I can feed my family healthy meals today.

I can call a shut-in, take someone a meal, write a card, decorate for an event, practice piano for a cantata.

I can make progress on my writing projects.

I can sew, bake, garden, exercise, practice piano and violin.

I can homeschool.

I can…{you fill in the blank.}

Did you notice, like I started to notice, that all of those thought statements begin with “I?”

The accomplishment addiction is apparently very self focused. Hmm. And how easily it can become an idol. We barely even realize it because we are busy checking off a “To Do” list- most of the time for things that really do need to be done. But those of us with a strong sense of accomplishment need to evaluate 3 things in order to accost this addiction:

1. Am I giving my day up to God’s arrangement? Am I saying “yes” to His plan for today?

Several years ago I taught through the book “What Happens When Young Women Say Yes To God” by Lysa Terkeurst. The basic premise is so very simple, yet it requires a conscious, daily choice. It requires right thinking. It means saying “yes” to whatever kind of day God has planned for me, whether it involves a lot of felt accomplishment or not. I’ve been amazed at how, when I give my day plans to God, He inserts periods of unexpected rest that I hadn’t planned for myself. It takes discipline and surrender to say “yes” to those moments when the chores are piling up and the demands press heavily. Say “yes” anyway. Accept His wooing to rest with Him. You will be surprised and delighted with how He arranges your day! You may also experience a good dose of “crazy” as He adds in unexpected things. This week alone has held a myriad of twists and turns for us that each took hours longer than expected. Frustrating? Sometimes definitely. But I’ve found that I’m much more calmed and conscious of God doing the re-arranging when I’ve taken the time to surrender my day.

2. Am I Christ focused or self focused in my thought processes?

Most of us would say immediately that we are Christ focused in our relationships with God. And, in a general sense, we probably are. But take a peek at your thought processes, and it may reveal something different in certain areas. In the area of accomplishment, I have realized more and more that my sense of accomplishment is often totally wrapped up in how I feel based on what I got done on a certain day. Ugh. I’m not saying that it’s bad to feel good about having worked hard and gotten something done. But it’s wrong to base our sense of worth or acceptance on the work of our hands. And it is so easy to fall into the mindset of basing a “good” or “bad” day on what we have or haven’t accomplished. It’s really all about the work of God’s hands. And when we’re focused on the work of our own hands, we completely miss His work.

3. Am I striving for tangible results- things I can see and touch? Can I be satisfied with the unseen?

The accomplishment addiction is solely based on what we can hear, feel, see, and touch. I know this makes us squirm a bit and want to wriggle out from under the truth of it. As uncomfortable as it is to face, it’s another result of being self focused. Our human tendency is to grasp and long for the tangible. But many of us serve in ministries that don’t yield much in the way of tangible results. We sit at our desk and click our pen and wonder what to say in the missionary prayer letter or the ministry report…because we don’t have glowing success stories. Why do we feel so let down by this? Why do we feel so useless and why do we wonder if our life even matters? Most often, it’s because we are focusing on the seen rather than the unseen.

Sometimes I try to imagine what it will be like when we get to heaven and realize all of the behind the scenes work that God was doing in our lives- the tiny moments that we missed, the putting together of circumstances and the bringing together of people. The miraculous and the mundane. The unseen, finally seen. I’m convinced that it will blow our minds and that it will vastly eclipse everything we thought we accomplished during our lifetime.

We will see and know that the unseen realm is where true accomplishment exists.

It’s in the prayer closet. It’s in the time spent in the Word. It’s in the Scripture memory. It’s in the anonymous gift or card or service that you didn’t think twice about. It’s in the quiet rest times and the meditation on our beautiful God. It’s in the messy moments of child training that seem to bring no change. It’s in the giving of the Gospel, the sowing of the seed from which we never see fruit. It’s in the difference that your smile made, in your humility, the reception of your kind words, the decision to forgive the person who is trying to destroy your husband’s ministry and reputation.  It’s in your graceful response to that graceless person. It’s in the plodding faithfulness behind the prayer letter that is void of success stories. It’s in your suffering, and in your sanctification process. It’s the laying up of treasure in heaven. It’s in all of the invisible things that the Spirit of God is doing in you.

This is true accomplishment. And I’m pretty sure we would all do well to embrace this kind of accomplishment addiction.


A Kindred Spirit