Our Need for Fun

by Francis MacNutt
Jun/Jul 2008

Fascinating recent research developments show that if we suffer too much stress over a long period of time, our immune system gives way and we tend to become sick. Widowers, for instance, are especially prone to fall sick and to die themselves in the year following their wives’ deaths. On the other hand, widows do not have as much of a problem, probably because they talk more with friends and deal with their grief openly, thereby reducing stress.

More to the point, for those of us in the healing ministry, psychologists are now studying something called compassion fatigue. You can get worn out “weeping with those who weep,” if you do not balance it with “rejoicing with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15). Most people who get into the caring professions – which includes prayer for healing – tend to have tender hearts and to deeply feel the suffering of others. How often we read that Jesus was motivated to pray for healing because he had “compassion on the multitudes” (Matthew 9:36).

I once prayed with a man whose life had been devoted to working with psychotic patients: he broke into convulsive sobs and shared that he was often tempted to commit suicide. This is a normal human reaction. When we share in the pain of our suffering world, we can be overcome by the enormity of its evil. When we see so much suffering, we find it hard to take time out to enjoy life: to go out to dinner, to play tennis, or to watch sunsets. These seem such a waste of time when Lazarus is starving outside our door (Luke 16:19-31). How can we be so heartless as to leave him, while we go to laugh and play?

The only way I have learned to deal with this guilt is by remembering something I heard many years ago in the seminary: “You have to decide whether your life is a long-distance race or a sprint.” Early on, I decided that I could ultimately help more people if I treated my life and ministry as a long-distance run (as best I can, realizing that my life’s length is up to God to determine), rather than burning myself out. I am a limited human being and the best I can do sometimes is to pass by this one person sitting outside my door so that I can have the energy and enthusiasm to answer God’s call to minister to the ten, twenty or hundred that will be there tomorrow.

Yet that is so hard, isn’t it? I need to pray to decide what to do in each instance, and not always be ruled by my heart. Not that my heart is always that tender: sometimes it needs to be warmed, but more often it leads me to do more than the Lord might be requiring in a particular situation. One of our staff members said that it seems every time we discern a clear call as a ministry to change our course in some more productive way for the Kingdom, the enemy just rattles a few of the thorniest cases we deal with to have major crises that week, and as we scramble to meet their needs, the agenda that the Lord has revealed goes untended or deferred.

We must learn to ask the Lord if HE has sent the people who come for help at inopportune times. Often he has not! Sometimes our pride is appealed to: “I have to talk to you. Only you can help me!” This is just not true. There is only one Savior and we are not him. The Lord said in Matthew 11:28-30 (KJV), “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” If we are really chafing and straining in the harness and we are finding no rest for our souls, we are probably carrying burdens that he has not given us.

As you can see, wisdom and discernment are crucial in regard to letting God bring balance to our lives so that we can avoid the consequences of burn out. I once read an article reporting research that showed stress may make us sick and that, once we have become sick, stress may slow down our healing. This report studied thirteen healthy women who were caring for relatives who were suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (they spent at least seven hours a day in tending to sick relatives’ needs). All these women, in addition to a control group, had undergone a punch biopsy to remove a small pea-sized circle of skin. The surprising result was that the caregivers took an average of eight days longer to heal! Furthermore, these caregivers, who had a built-in difficulty in taking time out to get their own lives in balance, were themselves likely to become seriously ill by the end of the year.

The lesson is that we need to prayerfully take care of ourselves or we will not be around to take care of anyone else.

I know that I am preaching here to myself, because I still feel a little guilty taking time off. I feel even more guilty in using that time to really enjoy myself and party with friends and family. Yet Jesus must have done this. Wasn’t he accused of being a “winebibber” and criticized for going to too many parties with sinners (Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:34)? Jesus must have been enjoyable to be around or sinners would not have stayed to listen to him.

Fortunately for me, we have here on our staff several happy characters who say to me from time to time, “You don’t look like you’ve been having enough fun lately.” They are right. How about you?

The article Our Need for Fun is taken from the Summer 1996 issue of The Healing Line. So many of Francis' articles have such wonderful encouragement and teaching - it's a shame to print them only once!

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Jun/Jul 2008 Issue