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April 20, 2007

Antidote to Overachievement

I succumb to a number of leadership pitfalls. One of those is the neglect of presence, translated: I'm so busy doing the work of leadership that I sacrifice being for doing, and worse, believe the lie that success rests entirely on my shoulders. It is the Elijah syndrome - the overachievement complex - and I have it.

One of the sure antidotes to an unhealthy focus on self-determination is prayer and meditation. But that's hard for a Type A to do. When I finally carve out the time to be quiet, how can I shut off my overdeveloped left brain? I'm either trying to unravel what happened yesterday (making a list of the problems) or engineering the future, making an equally long list of solutions. Yep, that's me?analyzer and a fixer. And enough of a loner that my mantra tends to be "Unless I do it, it's not going to get done." Sound familiar? As if us trees really move the wind.

Fortunately, the Psalms have consistently pulled me out of my self-reference default. They possess an unabashed honesty and an obstinate "now-ness," both of which seem to defy invasion by the didactic. In a particularly difficult period of my life, I read the Psalms exclusively for an entire year. It may be an unbalanced diet to some, but when one has an achievement setting as high as mine, an overdose on God-encounter doesn't seem possible.

During the same traumatic period in my life, I also found that going on short walks around my house and hiking familiar trails in the mountains encouraged the immediacy of soul I'd neglected. One day I realized that the Psalms I'd just read were staring back at me in the spent grass of summer; in stubborn little flowers?pushing their way through the cold earth of early spring; in unruly tangles of brush bending into a dirt road; in the bluish, crystalline water of an alpine stream. I began taking my camera and started "picturing" the texts I'd read.

A parched matrix of cracks in a creek bed pictured the spiritual dehydration described in Psalm 42:1-3: "As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. But when shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, where is your God?"

The bent cattail in the pond near my parents' home became a metaphor for Psalm 147:3: "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds."

flowers.jpgAn explosion of meadow flowers in a remote valley pictured the unbridled joy of salvation, described in Psalm 21:1, 2: "The king shall have joy in Your strength, O Lord, and in your salvation how greatly shall he rejoice! You have given him your heart's desire, and have not withheld the request of his lips."

I don't know what your default is as a leader, but my guess is we could all use a little more "encounter" with God and fewer bullet-points. If you want to balance your spiritual diet, you might try an extra-helping of Psalms. And if you have any way of mirroring your psalm journey - a little photo book, a journal entry, a dash of poetry, a charcoal sketch, a dance - I highly recommend the combination. For the severely cerebral and self-dependent, just consider this a prescription. One psalm, one psalm response per week. Four weeks. Then, in a month, come back to the blog and share with us what you did.

And now, women, let's get started. What can you imagine doing with Psalm 116?


I completely understand your struggle to be instead of do. Let me add that if you don't take time to listen, God often sends reminders. Last spring I was going full steam ahead trying to help lead a women's ministry at church, excel at my full-time job, and regularly visit the nursing home (plus saying yes to almost everything else that came my way). I knew I was pushing my limits, but it was all good stuff! Then I became dizzy for three months. During that time I had to be instead of do. It has been a transforming thing for me and has helped me learn to listen to God.

I know it says, "Women, let's get started," but I'd like to intrude a bit and toss something into the circle of conversation. As I was looking through some recent quotes we have posted on, I came across this insightful word from Ronald Rolheiser, president of the Oblate School of Theology:

"We want to be a saint, but we also want to feel every sensation experienced by sinners; we want to be innocent and pure, but we also want to be experienced and taste all of life; we want to serve the poor and have a simple lifestyle, but we also want all the comforts of the rich; we want to have the depth afforded by solitude, but we also do not want to miss anything; we want to pray, but we also want to watch television, read, talk to friends, and go out.

It's a small wonder that life is often a trying enterprise, and that we are often tired and pathologically overextended."

Though Rolheiser dives into other subjects and concerns, I thought it was a good thought to post along side of Sally's solid teaching.

Another reason the Psalms are so helpful for the over-achievement-prone is their shocking honesty. David's conversation with God is incredibly raw--expressing the delight, disappointment, fear, and trust one expects of the most intimate of relationships. The psalmist isn't requesting that the grey-haired sage in the sky bless his efforts... he's begging his Lover for mercy, for leadership, to come back again.

This honesty is why I love the Psalms--I cannot read them without being reminded how like the psalmist I am. I, too, have to beg the Lord to be with me, to let me feel his Presence, to be in the work I'm doing lest it fail. I'm reminded of my ineptitude. I'm reminded of my place before God: seen, known, loved, and on my face. The Psalms are indeed "an overdose on God-encounter"--they are the most humbling literature I've ever read.

Thanks for the reminder - I've been such an avid preacher of 3 nights a week spent on church related activities, and suddenly I am doing 6 nights a week... hopefully Psalms will guide me as to what to drop. The thought kills me though - I love them all :D

Over the past five years I have found the Psalms to be of constant encouragement by bringing me face to face with myself and with God. I have especially found that a little book entitled "Words of Wisdom" A journey through Psalms and Proverbs (compiled by George M. Wilson)gave me a balanced diet of the Psalms everyday. It takes the 150 Psalms and divides them into 31 days of reading with a chapter of Proverbs and space for journaling. I have been amazed when looking through my entries over the years how God has spoken to me and shaped my life. It is truly a book of praise and worship that takes you away on a spirtual mini-retreat!

Good Day, Good Sense and Good Walking are the three blessings I receive when I take the Psalms into my mind, body and spirit. I read a Psalm a day to keep God in my way. The article was a postscript to an answer from God.Thank you for my "good sense" session today.

Psalms 121 says" I looks to the hills, where does my help come from? It comes from God"
I have an advantage because I live in Littleton, CO (just SW of Denver). When our church choir is singing we look toward the back of the church toward a cross-shaped window. What do we see through that cross-shaped window? The beautiful Rocky Mountains! What a reminder that no matter how magnificient those Rocky Mountains are the God we worship is ever so much more so because He took our sins to the cross.

Greetings from North Auckland, New Zealand,
Thank you Sally for your timely reminder of being still for the Lord. And thank you, to Brian Lowery for those wise words.
I am one of those people who is on my feet all day and night serving people, instead of on my knees serving Christ.
Thank you for the Women in Leadership downloads, I am being so blessed by them.

Help. I am the Children's Ministries Director of a church of 300, with 65 of those being in the fifth grade and under. I set very high expectations of myself. Sometimes I feel it's all me. My excitement has waned. Asking for help seems to fall on deaf ears. I know that my own spiritual life has suffered, because I want the kids to be fed. I know better! However, your reminder came at a good time. Pray for me! I want a team of volunteer teachers that are on fire for kids! How does the fire get started, when I feel my own is flickering? I work a regular 40 hour per week job, and am a wife, while doing this volunteer ministry (which I LOVE).

Apparently there are no readers who see 'over-achievers' for who they really are;
insecure, insensitive, spotlight craving
control freaks. In fact, I cringe when someone proudly announces they have the gift of leadership. Invariably they end up in charge of something without ever having to prove that they're qualified--and about 99% of the time they're not. 'Overachievers' make extremely poor leaders for most of the reasons the article writer handily supplied us with;

"I sacrifice being for doing" means that the people around you cease to exist as individuals, and in essence, become extensions of yourself.(evidence of a control freak)

"Success rests entirely on my shoulders" translates into a preoccupation with self-importance that robs others of opportunities to use their giftedness.

"Unless I do it it's not going to get done" is the ultimate put-down to the people around you who can probably do it twice as good and twice as fast--but then you would'nt receive the recognition would you?

As the daughter of a Minister I have seen and heard just about everything, but as of yet, I have not seen a church women's group (or any other women's group) that has not been plagued with this type of leadership and the consequences that follow it. There are those of you who will accuse me of cycicism and frankly, I can take it. It's truth, plain and simple, and for every naysayer, there are a hundred casualties who will agree with me.

Whether you are a 'control-freak' or someone whom God chose as a leader through your spiritual gifts, we are called to do all things in love.

Whenever you lose sight of love in whatever you are doing (ministry, employment, family, etc.), you distance yourself from God. That is when the heart hardens and there are very real casualties.

When you are distanced from God, a gentle word, a pointed reminder, or the right Scripture can all be used to nudge you back to His path.

As we clothe ourselves in gentleness and humility and go forth - let us remember that we are only vessels to be filled up by Him for His work. After all, we need Him more than He needs us!


Last time I checked, Stacey, I could'nt find anything 'loving' connected to a control freak. In fact, women who need to control others have no idea what love even looks like--as is evidenced by your 'remedy' for those who are distanced from God; what you have described as 'treatment' is actually manipulation, which is not loving at all, it's hurtful and destructive.

Most of the hardened hearts I know of are the direct result of repeated emotional and spiritual abuse at the hands of other christian women; and no, they definitely do not need any nudging or pointing to remind them of where they're supposed to be. What they do need is; acceptance for who they are, unconditional love, frequent invitations for friendship, understanding and patience, a safe haven and most importantly, restoration and restitution.

Loving does not mean 'nice.' Jesus was always loving, but if you'd dig out your red-letter edition you'd notice that he was never 'nice' to the pharisees--who were, incidentally, the leaders of the day.


Hear, hear Marilyn! Having been "in church" all my life, I have had similar experiences with those in leadership--especially women.

Perhaps I come from the same cynical ilk, but I have to say that I found this article to exude rather nauseating amounts of false humility.

I am a type A perfectionist myself, and let me just set the record straight by saying that there is very little that is commendable about that. It is usually grounded in a serious need for recognition, and perfectionism is nothing more than a blight on every relationship a type A person can have--including one's relationship with oneself.

Since I am complaining, let me add that while I endorse reading the Psalms, even praying them when David words things better than I do, the truth is that Sally needs some serious in-depth Bible study.

My biggest complaint with women in leadership is that they are so touchy-feely and grounded in emotionalism that they are no earthly good--and most of them are not sufficiently learned doctrinally to know what they are talking about. I don't want to hear about your nebulous encounter with a dead twig; I want to hear about God's immutability: that wonderful characteristic that keeps Him from EVER changing towards me--no matter how much of a perfectionistic idiot I may be. When my "ideals" interfere with my life and my relationships, God loves me exactly the same way He did when I became His child. He never frowns at me, never turns His back, never tsk, tsks about my behavior (like so many women I know!). . . In fact, He is waiting for me in my future, knowing that I will continue to screw up until the day I die. That, ladies, is true of all of us because we are human.

Don't talk to me with silly ideas of making little "type A projects" to help me. Give me a sound, Biblical, spiritual reason to change! Like, for example, God's own words: "if any man glory, let him glory in this: that he understands and knows me." As a serious student of the Bible, I would assert that this will happen a lot faster by poring over the epistles than jounaling about how I feel!

I have to say that I got more out of Marilyn's extremely insightful analysis. Anyone that astute should be in leadership herself!

Thank you Linda for your intelligent and discerning words---and also for the vote of confidence! I too am tired of 'spiritual fluff' and long for a learned, well-grounded, passionate communicator of truth.

Maybe you could write us a book?


God uses broken vessels in His work. The person whom you view as a 'control freak' (or whatever label you wish to apply) is still a work in progress by God.

Often the people who hold on to tasks too tightly (aka the control freak) do so because of their own insecurities or own hardened or wounded hearts.

Christ calls us to love everyone - including those you find unloveable. Loving your enemies or those you don't agree with is part of that call.


To Sally or Amy - whoever wrote the article - thank you for putting yourself out there to both positive and negative feedback; thank you for being authentic and giving others something to talk about, to voice their feelings & thoughts, to discuss and learn ... from each other. I've found we learn from each other perhaps more so than from just one person. The article itself was informative, but coupled with conversation it was a lesson ... for all. Negative feedback is like the fire that refines; positive feedback is like the water that soothes and halts the refining process. We can receive both, as we are the tools which God refines for His good works. :)

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