My many years of operating as an over-functioner qualifies me to say that “we do not serve ourselves or our families well when we over-function.”
So what is over-functioning?
Over-functioning takes place when when we do for others what they can and should do for themselves. When we do this, it stops people from growing up and taking responsibility for their own lives. We keep them in a perpetual state of immaturity.
I remember reading a story of a married couple who had kicked their 30-year old son out of the home. He wasn’t working and expected them to look after him. They were not doing him any favors by letting him continue in this lifestyle. He had to grow up. Incredibly, their son even sued to stop his parents from forcing him out of the home. Fortunately for him, he lost.
But it is easy for this to happen. We become the biggest obstacle to our children taking responsibility for themselves and end up stunting their emotional and spiritual growth. We do not allow them to experience life and God for themselves because we are always fixing, helping and trying to make things better for them. By doing this, we rob them of the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and successes.
Over-functioning acts like a weed that creeps into our marriages, parenting, friendships and our churches as we try to micro-manage other people’s lives.
But it also negatively affects us as well. When we over-function, we put ourselves at the bottom of the heap, as we try to run other people’s lives. Eventually, we grow weary, tired and resentful and this shows up through sarcasm and complaining.
We see an over-functioner at work in the Gospel story of Martha and Mary when Jesus came to visit (Luke 10:38-42). While Mary sat at Christ’s feet, Martha busied herself with preparation. She openly complained to Jesus that Mary was doing nothing.
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42 NIV)
Martha’s over-functioning was cloaked in the guise of caring for the needs of others. She confused caring with having to take care of them. We end up taking more responsibility for people than God wants us to.
But as Christ pointed out, over-functioning erodes your spiritual life, preventing you from experiencing Christ’s love. This happens when we cross the line and put ourselves in charge of running God’s world, and we know this is happening when we don’t have time for God.
We become a superhero, like Moses, who was working day and night judging the nation of Israel (Exodus 18:13). Moses’ father in law Jethro recognized immediately this wasn’t right. Not only was Moses wearing himself out, but he was preventing others from fulfilling their God-given roles and suggested that Moses train others to take over these responsibilities:
21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; (Exodus 18:21-22 NIV)
Like Moses, we can be an obstacle preventing others from functioning in what God has called them to do.
So what are some of the signs that you might be an over-functioner?
- You move in quickly to advise or fix things in case they fall apart.
- You offer advice even when people didn’t request it.
- You have difficulty allowing others to struggle with their own problems.
- You don’t believe others can do the job as good as you and you find it better to do things yourself.
- You often do what is asked of you, even if you are already overloaded.
- You don’t ask for help because you don’t want to be a burden to others.
One of the biggest lies women believe is that we are the only ones holding everything together. We must choose to believe there is more to life than taking care of everyone else’s problems. You matter and a happy, healthy, purposeful life is the deepest desire of God’s heart for you.