In his book Crazy Busy, Kevin DeYoung describes “the terror of total obligation.” The general idea is that there are more good and noble and worthy things to do than we can possibly do.
Care for the poor.
Assist the homeless.
Help at-risk youth.
Serve at the local soup kitchen.
Raise funds for a local charity.
Go on international mission trips.
Be involved in programs at church.
Lead a small group.
Visit widows and orphans.
Spend time with my spouse.
Play with my children.
Host family get-togethers.
Have a full-time job.
Keep up with continuing education
Engage in professional development.
Train new leaders.
Study the Bible.
Devote time to prayer.
More. More. More.
Just reading that list can give you anxiety.
In light of the always-growing, never-ending list of opportunities to do good, DeYoung wrote: “I think most Christians hear these urgent calls to do more (or feel them internally already) and learn to live with a low-level guilt that comes from not doing enough. We know we can always pray more and give more and evangelize more, so we get used to living in a state of mild disappointment with ourselves. That’s not how the apostle Paul lived (1 Cor. 4:4), and it’s not how God wants us to live, either (Rom. 12:1–2).”
How do we “get out from under the terror of total obligation”? DeYoung lists a number of truths that help us find the peace and rest we desperately need. Among them was this nugget. “Jesus didn’t do it all. Jesus didn’t meet every need. He left people waiting in line to be healed. He left one town to preach to another. He hid away to pray. He got tired. He never interacted with the vast majority of people on the planet. He spent thirty years in training and only three years in ministry. He did not try to do it all. And yet, he did everything God asked him to do.”
If you’re trying to do it all, terrorized by feeling totally obligated, there is good news. We don’t have to do it all. And we can still do what God asks us to do. What a relief. Jesus knows what it’s like to encounter more opportunities to do good than one can possibly manage. He gets it. And he shows us it’s okay to say no, even when it’s an opportunity to do something good.