You know the feeling?
You are spinning one thing and then another needs a touch and you bounce back and forth and you have it all under control and then a third one gets going and then . . . well. We try to hold it all together. We try to do the right things. We try to keep the plates spinning. We fake like we are okay. Or we try to fix that too. Either way: weariness and burden redoubles. The things about plate-spinning is this: if the plates aren’t spinning they are falling.
Maybe you really relate. Or maybe you know someone that does. Check out the video and practical words below it to see how we can avoid falling into the traps of plate spinning and find rest for our souls.
David Spathaky and Debbie Woolley made history in 1996 when they spun 108 plates simultaneously on a live television show in Bangkok. Whoa. The art of plate spinning is crazy to behold. Thinking of even trying to spin one plate on a stick kind of stresses me out. I can’t imagine spinning 108 at once.
Even though I have no interest in learning this to spin plates, this concept feels familiar. I imagine we can all relate to the feeling of trying to manage too many things at once. At times in my life, it felt like I was spinning several plates: counseling full-time, managing a business, volunteering, serving on a board, running my two kids around, and managing things at home with my husband. I would spin from one task to another, trying very hard to keep everything from dropping.
From the outside it looked like I was a pro. But I was exhausted.
We see in the Bible a man named Moses, who was tasked with leading God’s people out of brutal slavery in Egypt. God had worked through Moses, through plagues and by parting the Red Sea, to lead the Israelites out of brutal slavery in Egypt. Although the Israelites were glad to be out of slavery, they weren’t too happy being in the wilderness. And when people aren’t happy, they tend to blame it on the leader. Even though Moses was a great leader, being responsible for tens of thousands of people took its toll. Moses was exhausted.
Moses’s stress reached a tipping point when he added to all the other responsibilities he carried, an additional role of sitting as a judge for all the people. As judge, he would sit from morning to night listening to and making judgments on their cases. When his father-in-law, Jethro, saw the load Moses was carrying, he said, “Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?” (Exodus 18:14)
Although Moses was spinning too many plates, he felt indispensable. His reply to Jethro shows he felt alone and burdened by the weight of leadership. He said, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, they come to me…and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.” (Exodus 18:15-16)
Although Moses saw no other option, Jethro warned, “What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.” (Exodus 18:17-18)
Moses fell into the same traps we do.
- Trap of Performance
Moses carried the weight of the Hebrew people and kept adding more and more to his responsibilities. We might not sit as judge from sunup to sundown, but how many of us find ourselves on our own performance trap? Bryan Robinson writes, “Overwork is this decade’s cocaine, the problem without a name.” The performance trap is so subtle and often celebrated, yet it is detrimental to us both personally and relationally.
In his book Margin, Richard Swenson writes, “When you reach the limits of your resources or abilities, you have no margin left. Yet because we don’t even know what margin is, we don’t realize it is gone. We know that something is not right but we can’t solve the puzzle beyond that. Our pain is palpable, but our assailant remains unnamed.”
In Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Ruth Haley Barton writes about the following symptoms of the performance trap: irritability, hypersensitivity, restlessness, compulsive overworking, emotional numbness, escaping in unhealthy behaviors, not taking care of self and needs, hoarding energy, and disconnection from others.
- Trap of People pleasing
Another trap that Moses fell into was people pleasing. The people demanded a lot from Moses and he felt the weight of their demands. He attempted to do everything they expected of him. These expectations pushed Moses past his human abilities and limits.
This struggle is probably the one I identify with most in regards to Moses. I love and care about people and want to help them, but historically I have done so to my own detriment. While I was counseling career I knew seeing five clients a day was my max. But because people needed to get in for an appointment, I would oftentimes see up to eight or nine people a day. Like Moses, I felt like not only responsible, but over-responsible for people. I put unreasonable expectations on myself, and it pushed me past my human limits until I was exhausted.
- Trap of Control
Moses had a lot of responsibility and oftentimes responsibility leads to an unhealthy place of control. It can be difficult to delegate or ask for help. What is someone does things different or better? What if I lose control or am replaced? I imagine these were some of the underlying concerns Moses faced as he carried the weight of responsibility for God’s people.
In Moses’ life, he not only had someone in his life to confront these traps, but Moses was willing to listen and make needed changes.
- Moses set boundaries.
Exodus 18:24-26 says, “Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. He chose capable leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.”
Moses placed trusted people in places of leadership and instead of carrying the massive load of leadership, he shared the load.
- Moses surrendered himself and his leadership to God.
Following the decision to share the load of leadership, Moses went up to Mount Sinai where God gave him a message for the Israelites. Moses relied more deeply on God personally and he was able to lead the people for over forty years in the wilderness.
Ruth Haley Barton writes, “Moses lasted because he allowed his leadership challenges to catalyze and draw him into a level of reliance on God that he might not have pursued had it not been for his great need for God which he experience most profoundly in the crucible of leadership. He literally had no place else to go.”
Are you feeling burdened? Are you caught in performing, pleasing, or controlling? What would God’s invitation be to you today to surrender yourself personally and relationally to Him?
A Prayer by Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace
Holy One, there is something I wanted to tell you, but there have been errands to run, bills to pay, arrangements to make, meetings to attend, friends to entertain, washing to do…
and I forget what it is I wanted to say to you, and mostly I forget what I’m about, or why.
O God, don’t forget me, please, for the sake of Jesus Christ.
O Father in Heaven, perhaps you’ve already heard what I wanted to tell you. What I wanted to ask is forgive me, heal me, increase my courage, please. Renew in me a little love and faith, and a sense of confidence, and a vision of what it might mean to live as though you were real, and I mattered, and everyone was sister and brother.
What I wanted to ask in my blundering way is don’t give up on me, don’t become too sad about me, but laugh with me, and try again with me, and I will with you, too.