James is my favorite book of the Bible. As a check list, organized, always on the go, “do-gooder” – the book of James embodies the way I live my life. I love when he says “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26 CSB) or, “Be doers of the Word, not only hearers, deceiving yourself (James 1:22 CSB). Those verses gave me ample reason to continue piling on more good things: conferences, Bible studies, volunteering at my kid’s school, fostering more children, cooking meals for a friend, and of course the list continues.
All of the good things that I had said yes to had become a heavy weight that I happily self sacrificed and endured to carry for the good of my Savior. It was the cross I daily chose to pick up and carry. There was not one thing on my list that was not good, and everything on my list I completed out of an abundance of love for Christ. But when the weight became too heavy, and exhaustion and failure stepped in, where did that leave me? When I could not carry out my list of commitments and serving for God, how did He see me?
When I unpacked all of these swirling thoughts with a friend, she gave me a new perspective I had never heard. She explained how quickly our minds and bodies can become addicted to our dopamine drip. How our constant plate-spinning and rushing around, fulfilling duties actually releases dopamine in our bodies giving us a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. The more I researched the more I realized I greatly suffered from addiction to my dopamine release. I loved the feeling of doing good for others. I loved the feeling of completing a seemingly insurmountable task list. In my efforts of serving God, I was instead fulfilling my own need of importance and value.
I wish I could say that once I had that all figured out, I could dust off my hands, take a deep breath and realign my priorities. The process of learning how to say no to good things and figuring out which things God desires for me to fulfill is a daily battle. Instead of creating margin in my days, I began choosing one thing to put on my calendar so that my day was margin for “the good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10 CSB).
Romans 3:23 reminds us that we are justified by faith, not works. It is a beautiful starting point in the gospel. Faith in Jesus as our Lord is what offers us salvation. There is no task I could ever do that could make God love me more than He already does. Timothy Keller says “God just loves you, because he loves you, because he loves you.” To revisit my favorite book of the Bible, James is a beautiful complement to what Paul says in Romans. Jesus loves me so much that out of my love I desire to serve Him in action.
My current mantra is a song by Hillsong that reminds us “Where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17 CSB). God did not send His only Son to the world for us to live as slaves, trapped in bondage, He came to offer freedom (John 8:36). And as I fight daily to not continually pile on more good things, I am reminded that Jesus died on the cross so I could live in freedom. So, even though quieter days seem awkward at times and my desire to accomplish weighs heavy, I am choosing to embrace the gift of freedom He graciously offers.
Melissa Jackson has been married to her college sweetheart, LD for 14 years and they reside in Charlotte, NC. Melissa is a biological mom of 3, an adoptive mom of 1, and sometimes a foster mom and host mom to exchange students. They also share their home with Melissa's parents. Their home is an ever revolving door and they are so thankful to be able to live with hands and hearts open to whatever God calls them to. Melissa has served on staff at churches as well as in leadership roles as a volunteer and has a passion for providing opportunities for others to be the hands and feet of Christ. Melissa began documenting their life of radical faith after her husband left corporate America to do ministry and they became foster parents. More about their journey can be found at www.crazywildfaith.wordpress.com