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IMG_20140325_131936 So, I’ve been having some bad days.

I’ve been resting, which is good, but it hurts. I’ve had cramps, headaches, diarrhea, deeper depression, and a growing sense of failure. Most of this is because of adrenaline withdrawal, which often hits people who overwork and then stop suddenly. I know that I work a lot, too much. But I’ve been feeling that I want to return to overworking if this is how I feel at rest.

This is a minor symptom of my lifestyle, really. There are greater ones:

A hormone imbalance over the last decade.

Social instability as I do not fit in one culture or another.

Lack of control over my emotional state.

My family and I living in poverty for the last fifteen years.

Neighbors, police, and the violent screaming at me.

Threats and fines from the city.

Of course, my friends and family, who really love me, don’t like this at all. Everyone, including myself, would like to see me live a life of greater balance. God made us all to exist in a world of balance, of shalom, where we would have our needs met, the rest we need, positive companions and emotional strength to love.

My friends see that I am choosing not to live in that shalom, even though it is within my reach. They tell me to rest more, to take more breaks, to eat better, to participate in more joy, to write more, to spend more time with God. I have friends who tell me that I cannot save the world, that I am doing too much, that I need to delegate, that perhaps I should quit. After all, my health is at stake, and my family’s well-being.

The solution, of course, is simple. I just need to back off. I just need to say “no”.

I need to say “no” to the man who comes to me thirsty, when I have much to drink.

I need to say “no” to the woman who is hungry, when I have a cupboard and refrigerator full of food.

I need to say “no” to the family who is harassed and unable to sleep, even though I have a safe place where they can sleep.

I need to say “no” to the mentally ill, who just me to give them comfort.

I need to say “no” to those who have no opportunity for worship, and to not give them an opportunity to come before the Lord.

I need to say “no” to those who want to tell me their long story, to refuse to listen so that I cannot pray for them.

I need to say “no” to the sinner and the outcast, refuse to give them a place of safety.

My well-being is more important than saying “yes”. My health is more important than theirs. My rest is more essential than theirs.

Laudable Exchange The problem is that we do not live in a world of balance. If everyone lived balanced lives between work for ourselves and work for others, if we all lived out compassion and mercy, if we all gave people the benefit of the doubt and the kind of grace that God gives us all, if we all took our extra resources and shared with those in need around us, then we would have a world of shalom. But that’s not the kind of world we live in. We live in a world where criminals are punished, not rehabilitated. We live in a world where the poor are rejected and treated like garbage. We live in a world where cultural, ethnic and social differences result in poverty and death. We are far from the balance God created.

Because of this extreme imbalance, some must love more to make up for that. Because some do not have ample food or drink or clothing, others must give so that they might survive. Because most do not share of their wealth, some must share more, even out of their poverty. Because most do not offer grace, some must open their arms in welcome all the more. Because too many labor for little return, some must labor more so that they may rest.

It isn’t fair. But it is the way of Jesus.

Jesus healed the masses, even when balance required that he rest. Jesus walked hundreds of miles to go to those who had need. Jesus offered food out of his poverty. Jesus counselled in the middle of the night, and rose up early to pray. Jesus made himself a target to the authorities so that some might rest. Jesus surrendered his life so that others might live.

And Jesus told his followers that we are to live the same kind of life. “No one has greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” “Surrender all that you have.” “Go from town to town, heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead and proclaim the kingdom.” “Blessed are you who are poor.” “Blessed are you when men speak ill of you.” Jesus wasn’t a great advocate of a life of balance.

The reward for this is that which cannot be seen. Jesus promises that a life of sacrifice and persecution due to love will have joy, but also mourning. That we will have a community of support amidst persecution. That we will have our needs met amidst poverty. And that we will have lives of comfort and peace and balance in a future time that is beyond our current resources. This is why this is called a life of faith. Because sacrificial love is for a pleasure that cannot be touched or even perceived with our senses.

If you live a life of balance, I do not begrudge you that. Good for you, as long as you give to those in need. In fact, know that I am a bit jealous of you. I wish that I could live a life of balance. But that is not my purpose in life.

Some think that I am trying to save the world. I am not so delusional. All I am trying to do is to help the person in front of me. And the next one. And the next one. To provide just a teeny bit more balance, a bit more shalom, in this world than when I came to it. If that means that if my health, my economics, my emotional state, my social standing or my life suffers because of it, then I just have to trust that God will make it worth it all.

  1. March 19, 2015


    This is so deep that I am at a loss for words, but I will probably try…later.

  2. March 19, 2015

    Andy Wade

    I want to comment, but there’s so much to process here. Is a balanced life a life of privilege? Is it a life we sacrificed to have a modern, sophisticated life? Is a balanced life just and elusive dream, a reality that escapes the majority? Can one have a balanced life and “lose one’s life for the sake of the gospel”? Inquiring minds want to know!

  3. March 19, 2015

    Lee Ann

    Are we called to God and the choices day to day that will give health, mental and physical that will bring us to Him? Is anything else idolatry? Jesus spent time away. He also traveled and spent time with several close, mostly supportive people. He allowed expensive perfume to be “wasted” on Him. For people who have traveled from lifestyle/economic extremes, some have their lens traumatized. They maybe have a hard time seeing the balance in the Bible and the balance options in daily choices. It’ to be expected. But even more important to listen to others’ input, it seems.

  4. March 19, 2015


    Thanks for your responses, folks. I know that this is a big issue. It seems to me that more people choose personal health as a point of idolatry, rather than service. Yes, Jesus tried to take time away, and when people met him to be served, he didn’t send them away. He served him. He made the attempt to have a certain level of a balanced life, but made the choice to serve instead.

    Ultimately, we need to remember that Jesus made the choice to be crucified, which is the ultimate extreme of an unbalanced life, because it is not life at all. People tell me, “take care of yourself, we need you alive”, but that isn’t the choice Jesus made. Jesus said, “It is better for you that I leave” because otherwise they would depend on his physical presence instead of the Spirit. Jesus said that no one could be his disciple unless they denied themselves and took up their cross. That is the direct opposite of the balanced life, the healthy life. Thus, a true disciple is one who has placed health at a lower place on their priority list.

    The option of having balance is the option of the privileged, you are right, Andy. The impoverished don’t have this option, the oppressed don’t have this option. And those of use who don’t just serve the poor, but have a true heart for the poor don’t have this option as well. Yes, I don’t have the resources to save all the poor. My responsibility, as I see it, is to share what resources I have so that some might have more options.

    My life is not balanced, as I hear many people tell me. But I have been able to provide balance for many from the resources I do not keep for myself. I will allow God to provide balance for me in the life to come. That is enough for me.

  5. March 19, 2015

    Cat Young

    I greatly respect the work you do among the poor and the homeless and I too see the needs that are often overwhelming. You know enough of our way of life to understand that I understand. But by what you have written you are suggesting that if one person has anything a homeless person doesn’t have, he should live in a state of perpetual guilt. You also are suggesting that if we say no, even once, we are out of God’s will. You may refute me but this is what your words indicate. You make it sound that by limiting your ability to perform certain tasks, you are actually not doing them at all.
    This is not only a logical fallacy but it is a very poor interpretation of the scriptures. Did Jesus heal every person that came to him? Not on every occasion. He limited himself, and limited what he did, for two reasons.
    One, he was fully human, and therefore limited by nature to what could be done within his reach, his time, and his energy.
    The second, and more compelling reason was that he “only did what he saw his Father doing.” We can and do infer from this that, in all those times he spent in prayer (there was a LOT of it) he actually received word about what God wanted done, and then implemented it. We do not read that he went to the cross burnt out, sick, overtired and in caffeine withdrawals. He took his times of rest; there were times he suspended those, but that was not the rule. He spent much time apart from the crowds seeking the face of his father, drawing not just strength but direction for his ministry and it was through that connection he was empowered to do all he did.
    Don’t let the rather condensed nature of the gospel narratives fool you into thinking Jesus was running on adrenaline and sleeplessness all the time. He did not do everything that could be done, but only what he saw his father doing.
    To do only what he saw his father doing took a great level of obedience, self control, and faith that his Father had provision for all that was not his to perform. Each of us has tasks that God has prepared for us in advance to perform (Ephesians 2:10); likewise, we can do all manners of tasks on our own initiative and never really know and be known by God (Matthew 7:22-23). The key is that if we are not in that place of communion with God such that he is prompting our works, then they are, using one translator’s term, unauthorized; we may be actually working evil. Those are Jesus’ words, not mine.
    I want to strongly suggest that you seek some valid, bona fide confirmation from your board about your condition and the theological stand you have taken about it. If you don’t have a board of directors you need to get one, and submit in humility to their collective wisdom. (We all need accountability because we are all limited, all afflicted with logs in our eyes, all affected by filters and biases.) Because if God truly has called you to trash your body, and thereby shorten your fruitfulness (not to mention leave your wife and children prematurely) in the name of saving the lost, then that will be confirmed through other godly people who listen to God. Without another person hearing the same message from him, you run the risk of not only being a “false prophet” but also a false martyr, motivated more by “survivor’s guilt” (and perhaps spiritual pride) than by the call of God. I am being blunt—forgive me. But I hope you will seriously and humbly consider my words, pray over them, and ask those whose opinion you respect to do the same.
    Praying for you,

  6. March 19, 2015


    Cat, I appreciate your concern. But I think that your stance is so strong that you misread my article. First of all, I am not saying that everyone must follow this path. I mention that specifically. I am saying that I am called to this path, not because of any guilt but because of the call of God. I don’t have a problem with people who have a balanced life… in fact I work hard to help others achieve it.

    Primarily, this post is written to people who want me to deny the call of God. I am speaking from a personal perspective. This is God’s call, and it was Jesus’ call, and it is the call of many others. If you want to consider me a false prophet or false martyr that is your choice. But my board, my housemates, my family and my close volunteers know about these considerations of mine and these choices of mine. While we agree that I need to dial down, we also know that the work wouldn’t continue without my hundred percent effort, and I must continue in that.

    Your words sound strangely like Perpetua’s father, when he visited her in prison before her martyrdom: “My father came to me from the city, worn out with anxiety. He came up to me, that he might cast me down, saying, ‘Have pity my daughter, on my grey hairs. Have pity on your father, if I am worthy to be called a father by you. If .. I have preferred you to all your brothers, do not deliver me up to the scorn of men. Have regard to your brothers, have regard to your mother and your aunt, have regard to your son, who will not be able to live after you. Lay aside your courage, and do not bring us all to destruction; for none of us will speak in freedom if you should suffer anything.’ …And I comforted him, saying, ‘On that scaffold whatever God wills shall happen. For know that we are not placed in our own power, but in that of God.’

    Our nation has deceived us that, as a church, we can live without persecution and suffering. But the Scripture is clear:
    We are called to poverty, mourning, hunger and persecution (Luke 6:20-24)
    We will not gain the kingdom without suffering and tribulation (Romans 8:16-17; Acts 14:22)
    We are called to surrender our possessions, our families and our lives for the sake of Jesus (Luke 14:26-27, 33)
    Those who refuse to accept hardships and difficulties for the sake of Jesus are not among the faithful who grow the kingdom (Mark 4:16-17)
    We are, as a church, called to stand with those oppressed and to be oppressed with them (Hebrews 10:32-33; 13:3)
    Paul was told by the Holy Spirit that he didn’t have to suffer in Jerusalem, but he said that he was glad to suffer for the Lord (Acts 20:22-24)

    I ask you to seek the Scriptures. I ask you to seek your heart, as a mother, who suffered and still suffers for your children– are we not to live lesser lives so that our family might live good lives? If that is the case for our children, is it not also for our brothers and sisters who suffer through no fault of their own at the hands of the governments and neighbors in our communities? At the very least we should stand with them, and that will also mean, for some of us, being arrested with them, being screamed at with them, going hungry with them and even being homeless with them.

    My sufferings are small compared to the sufferings of my brothers. I am going through adrenal withdrawal and I am given fines by the city and I am yelled at by the police and neighbors. My brothers and sisters who are given no place to live or sleep by the local governments. My family that is given food, but no place to cook. My children that have no place to clean themselves or to rest. My people who are blamed for being poor in public.

    I am not guilty at all. I have done more than anyone I know who isn’t homeless themselves. Rather, I am furious. I am angry at the injustice they have to suffer. I am angry at the fines and jail time they have to endure for simply surviving. I am angry that my co-pastor and his wife are threatened by neighbors and others because they don’t have a place they can park their RV. I am angry at the prejudice and hate.

    And I will stand with them. I will not forsake them. We are given a special place of responsibility in our city. We have the only warehouse for the homeless. We have the only showers for them. We are the only place where they will not be harassed by the police in a 20 mile radius. And if I only have to suffer weariness and eventual stroke for their sake, I do so gladly.

    Cat, you and a few others who have not seen our work are the ones who claim that my suffering isn’t worth it. If you or anyone else who wants to say that this is not my calling, I ask that you come and watch what happens here at Anawim. See how people are helped, not just in body, but in soul. See how the work meets such an essential need. See and then pray and ask God what we are supposed to do, what I am supposed to do.

    I will instead repeat the words of Paul, and invite any others who are stirred by the calling of God to do the same:
    “I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, but I will finish the course and ministry which I have received from the Lord Jesus. to testify of the grace of God.”

    • March 22, 2015

      Cat Young

      Steve, you are reading things into my letter that are not there. I am not telling you to dial down for MY sake. I am not saying the work isn’t “worth it.” And I don’t think you mean to suggest that caring for others results in living a lesser life. I live a much richer life because of my kids and what I bear on their behalf. I also care for many others aside from my own family. But I also recognize my own limitations; that I cannot do more than I can do. I have to listen daily to God to know what my priorities need to be, and to know where to spend my limited time and energy; I also have to then ask him to take care of those things I am having to let go of. This requires time spent in listening to God in prayer–something you stated in your letter than you haven’t enough time for because of everything else you are doing. I am suggesting that if this is really the case, you are putting the cart before the horse. Your relational connection with God is the wellspring of everything eternal, and everything that bears lasting fruit. It is God’s highest priority, because without it you can’t do anything that matters in the end–again, those are Jesus’ words. If you are burnt out, ill, tired, it is a message, Steve. These things do come at times, but they are times we are meant to reassess, prayerfully, what we are to do with the energies we have remaining. Your letter seemed to me a justification of carrying on as you always have because “no one else will” and that if you died because of it, well so be it. That sounds like you believe its all up to you, and its not. It sounds like you are missing the message that your illness is sending. You are not abandoning anyone when you work within your God-given limitations and allow God to care for the rest.

  7. March 20, 2015

    Tom Sramek, Jr.


    I, too, admire your work with the poor and homeless. I love the fact that you draw those who are marginalized into communion with one another and with Jesus. But I think in your response to Cat, you ignored the one call she made to you that is indispensable–the call to community.

    Jesus was the Son of God and accountable to God alone. At the beginning of his ministry, God called Jesus to move on to other places and preach rather than stay and continue healing the hundreds that were brought to him. Why? Not to save his energy, not to make him more comfortable, but because the only way that the Kingdom of God could really be ushered in was for others to be inspired to join in that ministry. Shortly afterwards, Jesus sent the disciples out as apostles. The disciples were accountable to Jesus and, later, to one another. St. Peter and St. Paul, likely two of the most passionate people for the Kingdom, argued with one another constantly, all in the name of discerning the will of God for them and the early church.

    So, I would reiterate Cat’s call (catcall?): find some Godly folks who have a similar passion for Jesus and the poor, and commit to prayer and discernment with them. Pray with, listen to, and be accountable to your family, who may know you even better than you know yourself and who are your primary ministry. Finally, I would encourage you to reconceptualize Anawim as a new monastic community following a Rule of Life that is both intimately involved with the poor and is also sustainable (Franciscan model, perhaps?). I would be more than happy to support such a community both financially and in prayer, but as long as this is “Steve’s ministry” it is neither sustainable nor worthy of support.

    Jesus died on the cross, once for all. He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him, but he has already been to Calvary and calls us to live in resurrected life, not in the crucifixion. Living in the crucifixion says that what Jesus did was incomplete, was not enough, and that we must finish that sacrifice. With what I know of you, you will never be too rested or too comfortable–the Spirit will always drive you into the world. It is time to invite others to discern the shape of that burden and to share it with you.

    You, your family, and your community will be in my thoughts and prayers.

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