go the extra mile...
I recently saw someone share a meme that said, “Go the extra mile. It’s not crowded there.” And my first instinct was to be in agreement. I have always believed in going the extra mile, especially when it comes to ministry and volunteering. I am the person that is very involved in my church and school organizations because I love helping others and I find value in using my leadership and organization skills.
But this past year, God taught me that He cares more about who I am becoming than what I am doing. My husband has had severe headaches for the last 5 ½ years and what began as occasional turned into a daily occurrence. Every single day, he would have a severe headache that didn’t respond to any treatment or medicine. And then in response to a medicine he was taking, he started suffering severe anxiety and depression. There were times I was afraid to leave him alone and I had to pull back from most of the things that I was involved in to help care for him and everything else. I quit my job, pulled back from volunteering and focused on being there for him. This was not an easy task as it took me away from the things I loved to being a full-time caregiver for someone in chronic pain. It was the hardest year of my life.
And all the time, I felt guilty for not using my gifts for ministry or in other ways. God sent me to seminary to share Jesus with others but there didn’t seem to be time to do anything else. I was still teaching a neighborhood bible study in my home but I thought of all the other things I could be doing and it didn’t feel like enough. When I looked around and saw what others were doing, I felt a sense of failure. But as I took these feelings to the Lord and to His Word, He started showing me that what He was calling me to was right in front of me. He didn’t need me to do anything more than that, but it didn’t feel like enough for me. The problem was that I was defining myself more by what I was doing than who I was to Him. God was gently nudging me - telling me that when I started to feel resentment or guilt for caring for my husband, then my heart needed a new perspective.
this world values...
This world values accomplishment and productivity; yet the Lord values people. He doesn’t want us to be so busy and distracted with activities - even if it is ministry -that we miss the people He is putting in our path. Whether it is our family, friends, neighbors or even the people at the grocery store, if we approach them with our buckets empty and eyes clouded from the other responsibilities we have added to our lives, we won’t reflect Jesus. And even when the task might be small enough that we can add it to our plate, it doesn’t mean it belongs there.
Jesus cares about our private self way more than our public self, which is why He spent so much time talking about our heart. If we think about murdering someone, then it is the same as if we did. If we lust after someone else, it is the same as if we committed adultery. And when the Jewish people questioned Jesus on why He was spending time with sinners, He told them to go learn what this meant: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” He wants our humble hearts more than any grand gestures. And we often justify our activities because we can see how people will be helped and yet just because we can doesn’t mean we should. God’s plan will always happen regardless, and the responsibility does not lie on our shoulders to make it so.
I wish I could say this was the first time I struggled with this. When my kids were little and I was given the opportunity to be the Women’s Ministry Director at my church, I would look around and see all the ways my kids and family were keeping me from going the extra mile. The activities were done with excellence because we had a great ministry team, but there was more ministry we could be doing, if I didn’t have to stop and take my kids home for a nap or if I was willing to give up date night with my husband. God was always trying to get me to slow down and enjoy my time with them because it wouldn’t be long before they were older. Now I have just a couple years left with my youngest two at home and what I wouldn’t give to go back for an afternoon when they were small, to soak in their innocence and exuberance and energy.
striving to underachieve...
So apparently this is a lesson that I am still learning: How to be present for the people in my path rather than concerned with my productivity or quest to go the extra mile. I’ve decided that I want to focus on being an underachiever rather than an overachiever. If I am an underachiever, then I have time to love on my family, take meals to my neighbors and pray for the angry checker at the grocery store. I have time to think about ways to serve my friends, write thank notes to random people and say a kind word to someone having a hard day. To do all these things is to have the heart of Christ, which is more fulfilling than any to-do list or achieved goals. Loving God is loving His people and that’s the achievement that really matters.
Jamie Canter is a wife and mom to three teenagers (prayers welcomed). She is a seminary graduate and has spent 20 years in ministry in her local church and neighborhood. She is also a professional volunteer because it's a great way to stay connected to her kids and to meet people. She loves to cook, which is good because with two teenage boys at home, she is always making food for them. Her college daughter is amazing, other than she chose to attend a rival college. You can find her on Instagram @jamiecanter
Photography by Cate Autumn Photography