Optimal Level of Tension
Once in a counseling session with a couple, I listened as the wife described her sense of responsibility to care for their child. She and her husband had established what is known as a “child-focused parenting” style. She believed she was responsible to be there for their son at all times. She strove to protect him from all harm, felt compelled to keep him happy, felt guilty when she wasn’t spending her off-work hours with him, and seldom went on dates with her husband because “she should be with our son.” The husband, on his part, echoed much the same sentiment.
Problem was, she could never quite pull off being the perfect mom. She was stressed, discouraged, and quite worried about the future well-being of her son–her concerned stemming on her perceived failure.
I suggested that instead of striving to be a “perfect mom” that she give herself permission to be a “good-enough” mom. My comment nearly triggered a panic attack. “My heart rate just accelerated, and I can hardly breathe when you say that,” she stammered. Nothing like creating a real crisis in the counseling office!
“I can’t settle for ‘good-enough.’ It feels like I’m giving myself permission to slack-off. I can’t tolerate anything less than perfection.”
I’ve found that when I suggest the concept of the “good-enough pastor” many pastors have a similar reaction. They hear me as lowering the bar of what’s acceptable in terms of effort and suggesting a flippant, careless and lackluster approach to ministry. Thankfully there are more options than either perfectionism and poor effort.
The ‘good-enough’ concept attempts to strike the optimal level of tension between the two extremes. It aims to provide adequate and effective levels of care, attentiveness, responsiveness, and service without tipping the scale to the over-functioning extreme where we are the “d0-all and be-all” for our parishioners.
It recognizes the wisdom of allowing our parishioners to “work out their own salvation,” by allowing them to be responsible for their own actions and decisions. It also trusts both the Holy Spirit and the person to work through difficulties and discomfort without our assuming complete responsibility to shield, soothe and problem solve for them.
As we establish optimal levels of tension we provide appropriate levels of pastoral care without becoming co-dependent. We build capacity in our people as they learn to self-manage and practice appropriate self-care.
As a result, we’ll do a much better job of accomplishing our primary calling: to manage ourselves and focusing on our responsibilities (as opposed to managing others and assuming responsibility for them). We’ll do a much more effective job in modeling a life of faith and surrender in relation to Jesus.