Ministry or Codependency?

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I used to have a savior mentality when it came to helping other people. Call it codependency; call it what you like. But it became overwhelming and incapacitating. I completely emptied my tank helping other people and I got to the place where even simple text requests for prayer would almost send me over the edge. Everywhere I looked, people seemed to be looking to me to fulfill their needs. I felt like a cow with 50 teats and an empty tank.

My body and soul began to break down from all the performance anxiety I felt—ESPECIALLY with the spiritual stuff.

I liked helping people, but it all felt dependent on me. If I didn’t pray for a person, I unconsciously thought bad stuff would happen or that I was letting God down. My perfectionistic tendencies reared their ugly heads. If I didn’t help every person that made spiritual requests of me, I’d feel horrible and worry about how their situation would end up.

I ended up feeling like a spiritual puppet. I had no boundaries when it came to the God stuff.

I was getting yanked around like crazy, and I was headed straight for burnout and emotional shutdown. I wasn’t getting my own spiritual tank filled enough to attend to every crisis in these other people’s lives. I was on empty, yet I still answered their texts and various requests.

God had to intervene to cut me free from these spiritual puppet strings—this issue had become a stronghold in my life and I just couldn’t see it.

(Strongholds are blindspots in our spiritual lives. They are areas of our lives where we are operating out of false mindsets or lies. And unless we get revelation from God or have wise friends that point them out to us, we usually don’t see them.)

My root issue in this stronghold wasn’t one of pride or legitimacy—I didn’t help others because I thought I was THAT amazing or because it defined my identity. My root issue was one of false responsibility. I was picking up other people and burdens that I was never meant to carry—and all in the name of God.

I learned false responsibility in my own family system from the time I was very young, so I didn’t even notice when it transferred over to my spiritual life.

And with each request that I fulfilled—whether praying for a friend or offering counsel to an acquaintance, I began to sink deeper and deeper. I walked away from most interactions feeling more burdened in spirit and mind.

Where was MY freedom in all of this?

I had mistaken my role for God’s. I had not understood the verse that tells us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. And because I was the first believer in my family of origin, no one had ever taught me how to DAILY walk free throughout the nuances of my spiritual life.

I had to discover through trial and error what brought freedom and life and what brought oppression and death.

The more time that I spent in God’s presence, the more I was able to recognize when something didn’t have God’s stamp on it. My discernment grew. I started to recognize the difference between God’s gentle leading and the enemy’s incessant driving.

I discovered that it is the enemy that is the cruel taskmaster. He loves it when we don’t take time for ourselves to refuel. He loves milking us completely dry. He is thrilled when we run around like crazy chickens with our heads cut off.

But that’s not God’s way.

Even when God leads us to help a certain person, there is grace that coats the way. If we feel overwhelmed or full of dread, it’s a sign to check in with God: “Father, is this an assignment from you or am I taking on something that I am just NOT meant to carry?”

God leads us by His peace in all things. And God’s heart is never to throw us into an arena with a bunch of needy people and say, “Okay, now let them suck you dry.”

His heart is always to protect us and to be life-giving to each person involved: receiver AND giver.

So when we feel that sense of chaos in a demanding moment, it’s great to take a few minutes to assess the status of our heart. Are we trying to do too much? Is the task from God but the timing is just off? Maybe we need to take an hour to downshift and rest, and then we will have what we need to answer that phone call or request.

Or maybe the request doesn’t lie within the boundaries of our jurisdiction. We don’t have the ability or grace to meet that particular need. I’ve encountered these times when I’ve had to tell someone, “I don’t know the answer to that. Have you considered talking to a counsellor or a pastor?”

Knowing our limits and personal boundaries is important.

Even Jesus had boundaries. Jesus walked towards certain ministry situations but away from others. He was very familiar with the needy, and He is our ultimate example in how to lead a spiritually-balanced life. He navigated all those nuances and we can learn from Him.

Jesus also modelled how important it is to take time alone in the Father’s presence to regroup and be filled up before we pour out onto others.

As for myself, I came to realize that operating out of a place of lack when it came to helping others was a recipe for self-destruction. So I became better at waiting to help people until I’d had my own spiritual regrouping and soul-care time. And sometimes, I just had to tell the person that I didn’t have time to chat that day but that I would pray for them.

I became better at navigating the balance of spiritual and natural tasks.

Another huge breakthrough for me came once I started releasing each person to God after I was done with my small part. So after I offered my listening ear, my prayers, or my spiritual counsel to another, I would literally and symbolically hang up the phone. I had to leave the requests and any heaviness that I felt in God’s hand.

If I didn’t, I ended up taking their warfare and burdens with me throughout the rest of my day—and that wasn’t my cross to bear.

I got good at praying: “Jesus, I release these needs and burdens to you. I’m not strong enough to carry them and your cross has already made provision for each of these things.”

I found visualization was also HUGELY helpful in releasing these things over to God. Because some things were just so heavy on my heart that my prayer alone wasn’t enough to lift the heaviness. I needed to actually see Jesus take the burden before I would feel that release of mind and heart.

So I would close my eyes and visualize myself handing the burden over to Him. I would see Him take it. And then I would ask Him what He had for me in exchange.

Making a divine exchange here is key.

When God removes something from us, He always LOVES to give us something wonderful in return. It’s that whole principle of God cleaning house. Once He cleans and empties out the negatives from our lives, God wants to fill those recently-vacated places with more of Himself.

And He always gives us good gifts.

This tool of making a divine exchange is now something I utilize on a daily basis to keep myself free from spiritual heaviness and burdens.

Just the other day, I felt incredibly burdened for Israel. I wanted to pray but I just felt consumed by grief and worry for their people. I knew in that moment that it wasn’t a time for prayer; it was a time for release. If I had prayed from that place of worry and fear, I wouldn’t have been praying from God’s heavenly perspective. I recognized that I had inadvertently taken a burden on myself that I needed to release.

So I visualized myself handing Jesus the entire nation of Israel.

It was a beautiful moment. After He took it, I saw Him place a tiny box in my hand in exchange. And when I opened the box, it was fully of tiny little things that brought me joy and made me laugh. His playfulness and comfort surrounded me in that instant. I would pray for Israel later when I was in a better mindset.

His yoke really is easy. His burden really is light.

I’ve found SO much freedom in this particular journey. My boundaries are continuing to get better. And I walk with more spiritual awareness now—especially in recognizing when I’m carrying any heavy yokes or burdens.

The God stuff is enjoyable for me again because I let Him do all the heavy lifting.

I pray you find the same freedom.

~From Glory to Glory

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit”
(2 Corinthians 3:18).

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

“But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

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