3 reasons to slow down: Confessions of a missionary workaholic
June 2012

By Anna McShane — I love the apostle Peter! He’s my kind of person — he’s a doer.

Jesus says, “Follow me,” and Peter drops his nets and follows. Jesus walks on the water and Peter jumps out to join him. Jesus tells him to fish and he throws in the nets and pulls out a whole batch of fish — justifying a night with no catch.

I know why I love Peter. He’s just like me. He’s a biblical workaholic!

Not long ago I took a psychological test in a team-building exercise. My results were classic Peter. “Rocket thrust, highly inner directed, persistent style, achiever zone …”

My excuse is heredity. My parents were doers. And their parents. Nobody stopped working before 80 … or 90. In my mother’s final years — post 90 — when I would blow in from out of town and clean her house from top to bottom, she’d say, “I used to move like that.” What she meant, but had the grace not to say, was, “Sit and talk. It’s you I want, not a clean house. The house will be here when I am gone.”

A lesson learned

Years ago when I moved into a wealthy Philippine neighborhood, a departing missionary gave me her women’s Bible study. “Ah,” I thought, “Now I am a real missionary!” I soon realized that though I was a good Bible teacher, the Filipina women had much to teach me about life. We met from 3 p.m. till after dark. I wanted to study, finish, and get home to my kids, but my Western goals didn’t suit their culture. We talked, we ate, we studied, we ate, and we talked. Bible study was our reason for gathering, but they learned holistically. To them, it was far better to have deep friendship and to share their laughter and tears.

My dear neighbor ladies were not lazy, but their priorities were different. They ran large households and many hands shared the work. Life was hard, but they took time with family and friends. While they slowly moved toward faith in Christ I saw that my teaching was a good start, but being part of the conversation was more valuable. I learned to stop fidgeting, to nibble another sweet, to relax and listen — then God worked.

Letting your light shine

Today, doing still comes easier for me than being, but my Bible tells me to let my light shine before others, so that they may see my good works and give glory to my Father (Matthew 5:16). The shining light precedes my good works, and brings glory to God, not me. God asks for both — doing and being— but our culture has idolized achievement. What we do matters and counts for eternity, but God first wants us to be a steady light in the darkness. A moving light draws attention to itself, but doesn’t give light for others.

It is in “being” that we truly reflect the Light of Christ. God seems better able to use me when he gives me the grace to speak gently, to pray with a friend in trouble, to listen to pain, to slowly lead a searcher to the Savior. I prefer the work, but God brings me up short and says, “Go be a lightbulb.”

Three reasons to slow down

When I try bolster my self-image by what I do, I offend God. God calls me to revel in his glory, and to glory in the fact that he loves me and made me as I am. He doesn’t care if my to-do list is checked off. God doesn’t need my help, but he demands my attention. I have to let go of the satisfaction work brings and seek satisfaction in him alone.

When I move too fast, I can’t hear God speak. I miss contemplation, meditation, solace, where God can speak through his word and what others have taught me.

When I work too much, I have no time for other people. I am only a shallow acquaintance when I should be a caring companion. I blow people away by my tornado of living when I should be drawing them closer with a soft whisper of invitation to life eternal. I’m so into “ministry” that I don’t take time to minister.

It’s also possible to work too much, too fast, to cover deep personal needs, or to avoid relationships, or to fill loneliness. Though I may not feel this is my issue, I still need to stop and probe my heart.

The solution

What can I do about my workaholism? First, I need to acknowledge my weakness. I often have to do the 12 Step routine in my mind. “Hello, my name is _____, and I am a workaholic.” When I am willing to tell God I know this is wrong, he steps in to help me change and rebuild.

Then there’s what I call the “exorcism” of my calendar. If I look ahead a few months on my calendar and see blank spaces, I panic. I should praise God and enjoy the space, but I want to fill the little blocks so I can relish the look of being needed. I am convicted that I need to put boundaries on my workload and leave space in my days that God can use as he chooses.

I desperately need to force myself to take Sabbath minutes in every hour, Sabbath hours in every day, and Sabbath days in every week. Not only for specific worship, but to engage in whatever calms my spirit and soothes my soul. For me it’s the yard, or baking bread, or a good book.

Sometimes God just decides to stop me. God once cleared my calendar of several favorite ministries. I was rather peeved that he took away what I truly enjoyed. Then he brought my first grandchild — a fragile special-needs child — and I began to understand why he had wiped my slate clean. Suddenly, my family needed my support and presence and “those ministries” didn’t matter. Yes, I did a lot of extra housework and cooking, but my daughter needed me more than my work. My granddaughter only cared if I touched her, held her, talked to her. Public ministry didn’t impress her at all.

I also find it vital to ask myself, “What can I not do?” I served on the local public school board and deliberately dropped some church ministry. Some people wondered why I spent time with those “godless” people when I could meet needs at church. I had to remind myself that because I can meet a need doesn’t mean God has called me to do it.

Finally, I can ask for accountability from others. Sometimes a trusted friend helps me keep my life under control. My husband also helps. I’m married to a man who was raised to work hard, thank God, but that means he’s just as bad a workaholic as I am. I am learning to give God the job of keeping us from what an old pastor friend called “the barrenness of busyness.” We try to sit down every few months with calendars before us and look ahead, week by week, so we see what’s coming before it hits us. We take spontaneous hour retreats, day escapes, and genuine vacations — with no guilt.

If I go back to scripture, I see what happened to that impetuous man, Peter. The one who was always the first to do, last to think or be. He learned the hard way the night before Christ’s crucifixion that when you do first, think last, your actions can cause you great grief. Peter mellowed and God could truly use his strengths.

Peter left good advice to Christ followers: 

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (2 Peter 1:5-8 )

These qualities, which all seem to be more about being than doing, will make me a woman God can use. My legacy should be who I was as a person and how my character modeled Christ, not my “Look what I did!” list.

Missions coaches help SEND missionaries not just survive, but thrive. Click below to speak with a coach who can get you started on the path to global missions.

Contact a mission coach

• SEND’s member care department provides personalized support for each of our missionaries and their families throughout their careers. Read about some of the benefits of serving with SEND.


Subscribe now to stay up to date on all our recent posts, right to your inbox!

Connect with SEND

Start your missions journey by chatting with a SEND Coach.


Sign up for Explore, our monthly newsletter to help you discover your role in missions. 

Anna McShane
Anna’s lifelong involvement in missions has included serving throughout Asia.