I recently attended a workshop and heard the term “Plimsoll Line.” I am an admitted nautical novice, and the concept of the Plimsoll Line was intriguing.
Samuel Plimsoll (1824-1898) was an English politician and social reformer who is best remembered for developing what is known today as the Plimsoll Line. It is a mark on ships that helps determine how much weight the ship can safely carry.
The draught (the distance between the water line and the ship’s keel) is determined, which is different on various kinds of ships. This distance between the waterline and the bottom of the ship informs the crew as to how much weight can be loaded and safely carried. Water temperature is a factor (warm water is less dense the cold water), which decreases buoyancy. The same is true of salt or fresh water – fresh water provides less buoyancy, too.
The Plimsoll Line keeps a ship from becoming so overloaded that it cannot stay afloat. This sounds like something each of us need in our lives – an indicator to help us know when we’ve overloaded overselves and taken on too much.
Loading Past the Plimsoll
It is dangerous to avoid using a ship’s Plimsoll Line. Overloading a ship can produce disastrous results for the captain and crew, and the owner of the ship. There’s a reason the Plimsoll Line was developed in the first place! Ships were often overloaded with cargo, and some sank because of it.
As leaders, there is a point beyond which we overload ourselves. Stress, anxiety, reduced performance, anger, depression, and apathy are just a few results of continually overloading our calendars with personal and professional obligations. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be loaded and busy – to a point – but beyond that safe point, dangers abound.
Group leaders tend to be among the busiest people in churches today. Group leaders are under pressure each week to prepare their group’s Bible study, care for the members of the group, keep an eye on absentee group members, follow up with guests, spend time in prayer, read devotionally, and much more. Those things are in addition to tasks that come with the added responsibilities of being employees or employers, moms and dads, coaches, neighbors, and friends. No wonder so many of us have overloaded ourselves well beyond what our “personal Plimsoll Line” says is safe.
Finding Buoyancy Again
If you are someone who has taken on too much and overloaded yourself, ignoring common sense when it comes to managing your life’s activities, here are a few tips that might help you find buoyancy again.
- Don’t try to earn God’s approval by constantly being busy. God loves people who move slowly, too! I’m sure you remember the story of Mary and Martha? One sister was busy preparing the house and the meal for an evening with Jesus, while the other sister sat at His feet and spent time with Him. We must not fall into the trap today of believing that full calendars mean we are important, important to others, and more important to God.
- Give yourself permission to say no. I’ve recently declined opportunities to do some projects for other people who made requests of me. Honestly, I don’t like saying no, and I don’t like disappointing people. But I have to realistically assess my available time, and I could say yes so often that I have zero time for me, my family, and my relationship with God. Saying no to some things helps me say yes to those things that are most important in my life, and those things that are most important in the grand scheme of eternity.
- Involve others. One of the joys of being a group leader is the opportunity to help people use their God-given gifts. Like pastors, whose role it is to “equip the saints for works of service,” you and I can “call out the called” and invite them to help us with essential tasks related to group leadership. You don’t have to do it all for your group members! Doing so creates an unhealthy co-dependency in which you receive validation and accolades for your heroic efforts. Group members may unfortunately feed that ego by sitting back and letting you try to become Superman to them. Don’t do it! Avoid that trap by asking people to help you teach, reach absentees, minister to their fellow group members, plan fellowships and service project days, and other things important to group life.
- Seek professional help. Finally, if you have overloaded yourself well past your personal Plimsoll Line, talk with your pastor. You might also consider seeking a professional counselor if you’ve become weighed down with life’s burdens. God has granted wisdom and experience to men and women who can help us when life gets heavy.
In closing, remember the words of Jesus as you go about your day today. “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, CSB). Jesus summed up the Old Testament in two commands – love God, and love others. He kept things simple, while we tend to overcomplicate them. If you’ve overloaded your life and you’ve ignored your personal Plimsoll Line, return to your first love – Jesus – and take rest and refuge in Him. Stop trying to earn His approval and love – you already have that as His child! Learn to say no and not feel guilty. Share your essential tasks with others and let them help lighten your load. Talk with your pastor – I promise he’ll get it and will be able to give you good guidance. And finally, remember the words of the old hymn:
O soul are you weary and troubled
No light in the darkness you see
There’s light for a look at the Savior
And life more abundant and free
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace