A Healthy Distance

The mission life is a 24/7, no-real-schedule kind of life. As a person who likes order and predictability, I never knew what was happening from one week to the next during our twenty-plus years of cross-cultural service. As I’ve shared before, I kept my sanity by doing my laundry and house cleaning on specific days. It was my little area of control in the midst of what could look like a chaotic existence.

What do you do to make boundaries in ministry relationships?

When people are coming by or calling at all hours of the day and night, how do you keep it from becoming too much and leading to burnout? My late husband had a wonderful saying for such issues.

Raouf finding space at the sea

Learn to keep a healthy distance.

This has become a motto in my own life, as I watched him model this for me in our twenty-five years of marriage. Raouf found ways to minister and love others while not allowing them to invade his space without his permission. How did he achieve such a feat?

  • He didn’t always answer the door. In Syria, we lived in a fourth floor walk-up. The door had a peep hole, and we were not afraid to use it! If people came without first calling, and if we were resting, studying or preparing for another visit, we simply did not answer the door.
  • He taught people how to make appointments for visits. After receiving visitors who stayed for hours on end, Raouf finally learned to tell them that he would be able to visit with them from, say 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. This gave them at least an hour’s cushion for the usual lateness, and then a full hour for the visit. With another visitor scheduled for 1 p.m., he could bring the time to an end and knowing someone else was due.
  • He blocked out time for family. At one stage, our boys were young, and they were not getting consistent quality time from both of us, because our house was always busy. We finally told our friends that we would not be seeing people during some specific times of the day, and they needed to see us either before or after those hours.
  • He learned how to start and stop visits. Whether in our home or theirs, Raouf would always insist that we were not there for a full meal (though we still had our share). Keeping things limited to the compulsory coffee and cake, time could be better spent on deep conversation and less on the social banter surrounding a meal.
  • He always pointed people to Jesus and God’s Word. Raouf led by example in referring to what Jesus would say or the Bible would say about any specific issue that came up with a visitor. His opinion didn’t count — Jesus’ did. This helped, above all, to remind those we loved that they had at their disposal the same treasure of wisdom that they sought from us.

We all make choices in life. Though God may bring people into our day without them having been on our schedule, we must rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit to know how to speak into their lives sometimes in those special moments. However, that does not mean every visit is like this.

When Moses was “trying to do it all,” God sent him a wise father-in-law to help him find balance. Even Jesus didn’t heal everyone that came to him or allow everyone into his inner circle of disciples. He was purposeful and chose the moments and people to whom he would pour his teaching and care.

God gives rest to those he loves. Don’t let others push you to exhaustion, which only leads to bitterness and loss of love for the ministry.

Choose to keep a healthy distance and live a life of service in the balance that Jesus brings to those he calls.

Grace and Peace


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