Written By: Melinda Means
It had dreamed about it since I was a little girl.
Tucked away in my room, devouring book after book, I fantasized about becoming an author. At school, I’d gaze at the bookshelves in my classroom and daydream about my masterpieces lining the shelves one day.
Last year, it became a reality.
After years of blogging, building an audience, prayers, sweat and tears, my first co-authored book hit the shelves.
But by the time it did, it didn’t have the effect that I always thought it would. Sure, it was a great feeling. However, something has happened along the way to realizing this dream.
The joy had slowly drained out of my ministry.
I was feeling more and more distant from God. I began to resent ministry and people.
In desperation, I remember praying, God, I’m so tired. I can’t do ministry this way anymore. If this is what is required and how it has to be done, I’m out.
Looking back, I can identify three steps that led to my ministry misery:
Step One: I made it my identity.
In the world of writing and ministry, I’ve always been told that you need to build a “platform.” People have to know who you are if you want anyone to hear your message. True enough.
I subscribed to a slew of blogs that gave expert advice about getting more followers, increasing traffic and marketing effectively. I worked incredibly hard and applied the techniques.
It was like I was in high school all over again. My popularity became a measure of my worth. As a recovering people pleaser, I fell back into old habits and thought patterns. What others thought of me became way too important. I looked to online recognition — instead of God alone — to fill my need for acceptance and importance.
On any given day, my mood could be altered by the state of my Amazon book ranking or the response (or lack thereof) to a blog post.
Even when I reached a goal, it didn’t delver the payoff I craved. Because there was always a new goal to set and achieve.
It never felt like enough. There was never an endpoint. I never felt a sense of satisfaction.
When would I finally be “successful”? I didn’t know. But I knew that it was never at the level I had achieved.
Step Two: I compared myself to others.
I don’t know who said it, but it couldn’t be more true: Comparison is the thief of joy.
It wasn’t just that I compared my “numbers” or “followers” to others, I would also compare their gifts and abilities to mine. I’d think that if I were just a better writer, a more engaging personality or a more brilliant business mind like “Suzy” or “Kelly” or __________________, I’d be content.
I struggled to be happy for others who were given incredible opportunities to spread their messages and tell others about God. It made me feel like a failure.
Why did they get that opportunity instead of me? What were they doing that I wasn’t? Does God love them more? Trust them more?
Step Three: I followed “advice” instead of Jesus.
After years of following advice from all the experts, I felt empty and anxious. My focus was on all the wrong things.
I lost sight of the reason I began my ministry in the first place: a love for Jesus and a desire to serve Him.
For at least a year prior to God finally getting my attention, I felt a restlessness in my soul and spirit. I knew that the way I was pursuing ministry was not led by God.
I could feel Him leading me to pull back and quit obsessing. To rest. To spend more time with Him and less with the “experts.” To be bold enough to do ministry like He directed — even if it went against all the conventional wisdom.
And I resisted — time and time again.
My turning point
About six months ago, the exhaustion and weariness got to be too much. I began to ask God over and over again to show me a new way to do ministry. One that brought me joy instead of anxiety.
It didn’t seem possible.
This fall, as I was planning a women’s conference at my church, my health failed me. I’ve struggled with chronic illness for years. But for two weeks, I was nearly bedridden. All my frantic activity came to a screeching halt.
God finally had my attention. I was finally willing to give it all to Him whatever that meant.
When I spoke at the conference, I had nothing. I prayed, “God, this is going to be all you. I am completely empty. ” I felt a power of the Holy Spirit that I had never experienced before. He didn’t need all my frantic efforts after all.
I wanted more of that. More of Him. Nothing else. Just that. I was willing to follow wherever He led — just to get more of Him.
I’m doing ministry very differently these days. I still have a blog, but not much of a social media presence.
I don’t know the big picture. Or where He’s taking my ministry. I’m just following where He leads step-by-step.
His approval is all I need. His expert advice will always be for my good.
Do I still struggle at times with those old demons of comparison and insecurity?
But they don’t own me anymore.
The joy is back. Nothing is worth losing it.
Melinda is first and foremost the daughter of an incredibly gracious and patient Father. She is the Women’s Ministry director at her church, wife to Mike and mom to teens Molly and Micah. She blogs about finding refreshment in the midst of adversity at melindameans.com. She is co-author of Mothering From Scratch, Finding the Best Parenting Style for You and Your Family (Bethany House, 2015).