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I never expected an episode of the sitcom Superstore to come for my whole life, but that’s exactly what happened. In this particular episode, floor supervisor Amy is frustrated as she watches her parents drag their feet to pack up their belongings for a move. Her parents failed to reserve a moving truck, and they have packed very little, when Amy decides she needs to step in and help them.

Amy gets into a large truck from the store where she works in hopes of using this truck to help her parents move. As she is struggling to shift the truck into gear, annoying co-worker and potential love interest Jonah offers to drive the truck for her. Along the drive, Amy vents to Jonah about how she always has to be the responsible one in her family. She has to be responsible for her parents. She is responsible for her teenage daughter. She is responsible for everyone at work.

When Amy and Jonah arrive at Amy’s parents’ house, it’s clear they have not been doing what they need to do to move. Instead of packing boxes, they are unpacking boxes so that Amy’s mom can make tamales. Amy’s dad tries to sell art pieces to Jonah. Basically, they are doing everything they can not to do what needs to be done.

Amy sits down on the bed in her childhood room, and she and Jonah have this exchange:

Amy: This is never gonna get done. I’m so sick of having to do everything for them.
Jonah: Then don’t.
Amy: Come on.
Jonah: No. I mean it. What what would happen if you just left right now?
Amy: Then I would be the one who had to deal with the consequences.
Jonah: No, you would be the one who decided to deal with the consequences, instead of just letting them deal with it. I’m just saying, it’s not your responsibility to make sure that everything goes well for everybody else.

Then don’t.

Those two little words almost made me cry.

I know well the burden of feeling like I have to do everything for everyone. As a perfectionist, I weigh myself down with my expectations for myself. As a people pleaser, I weigh myself down with the expectations I think others have for me. I tell myself that I expect myself to do things for others because I love them and because I want good things for them. And, it’s true. I do. But, deep down, I think there’s something more going on: I’m afraid of what might happen to my relationship with others if I set boundaries. I’m afraid of finding my identity outside of being the one who is always there for others no matter what.

Then don’t.

When I find myself in a situation like Amy’s, where someone I love seems to be in over their head, I tell myself that helping them will bring us closer together. Instead, I often end up feeling resentful for having to do one more thing. The other person may be completely unaware of the way I’ve put myself out to help them, or they may resent me for not allowing them to live life their own way.

I step in because I want closeness, appreciation, care, and love. But because I step in, I prevent myself and the other person from having a relationship of mutuality. Because I step in, I get overwhelmed. I feel angry, resentful, and unappreciated. I overfunction because I’m seeking closeness, but in my overfunctioning, I alienate myself from others. I alienate myself from my self.

I don’t want to step in and do all the work.

Then don’t.

I don’t want to be the one who fixes everything.

Then don’t.

For the first several years of ministry, I found myself doing many tasks out of a feeling of obligation. I stepped in and covered empty volunteer roles because I was afraid of a ministry or project fizzling out and dying. I worked, and worked, and worked until all I could feel was anger. I didn’t even realize I was angry. But even things I wanted to do were starting to feeling like an imposition to me. I felt overburdened, overtired, and like there would never be enough time to get any of it done.

The truth is, I didn’t want to allow a small group to quit meeting, or a children’s program to run its natural course because I took everything as a sign of personal failure. If a ministry wasn’t thriving, I must not be good at pastoring. I saw all of those tasks and ministries and programs as an extention of myself because I was afraid of doing the self-work to learn who I actually was apart from any of these things.

16 years in, and I’m finally learning the power of embracing a “Then Don’t” model for ministry–a “Then Don’t” model for my life. I recognize that boundary-setting has consequences. Deciding to stop overfunctioning when others underfunction may well cost something in those relationships, but it doesn’t have to cost something to my sense of self.

All the overfunctioning in the world will not fix all that’s broken inside ourselves. The first step toward healing is admitting our limitations–our beautiful limitations, our human limitations. The world is not all on my shoulders. It’s OK if you take it off of yours, too.