Superwoman Syndrome

Marriage and the Family June 19, 2013

“In Joppa there was a disciple named Dorcas, who was always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36).

Always doing good. That simple three-word motto could be used as an advertising slogan for many women. Do you ever feel as though you’re always doing good by cooking a meal, cleaning the house, volunteering on a committee or listening to a friend?

There are many ways to be a do-gooder. Most of us have filled at least one of these roles.

Superwoman. She can balance housekeeping, motherhood and a busy career without batting a perfectly made-up eyelash. She’s juggling so many tasks in the air that you wonder what will happen when they all come crashing down.

Selfless Saint. She has given up her life in the service of another—perhaps an ailing parent, a disabled child, a dysfunctional husband or a demanding boss. She seems to have no life of her own. No time to care for her own needs, and no hobbies or interests of her own. When you ask her how she’s doing, she smiles a sad little smile and says, “Oh, I mustn’t complain.”

Busybody. Often a homemaker or a retired woman, she pours her hours and energy into serving the church, running the food bank, and helping the less fortunate. She can be a little bossy and officious at times, but nobody has the heart to tell her because everyone relies on the work she does.

Of these three types of do-gooders (and there are many others), the woman described in Acts 9 seems to have been most like “the busybody.” She seems to have been best known for her efforts in sewing clothes for the poor, but she was probably active in helping people in many other areas.

And what’s wrong with that? Isn’t that exactly the kind of work God has called Christian women to do? The Bible says of Jesus that “He went around doing good” (Acts 10:38). How honored Dorcas would have been if she’d known that almost the same words used to describe her were used to describe Jesus.

But Dorcas faced a problem. Unlike Jesus—and like all of us—she was only human. Her resources weren’t limitless. All too often, when we dedicate ourselves to doing good, we hit a wall that forces us to recognize our limitations. Whether we experience illness, injury, exhaustion or the common condition called “burn-out,” we discover that we can’t keep going endlessly.

We need her

Events took a dramatic turn when the Christians in Joppa, who had known and loved Dorcas for her generous spirit, sent a message to the apostle Peter, who was visiting a nearby town. Peter—the same Peter who had been one of Jesus’ three closest disciples—was well-known as a Spirit-filled preacher who had the same amazing ability to heal people that his master, Jesus, had displayed while on earth.

Jesus had raised the dead. The Christians in Joppa wondered, “Could Peter do the same?” Peter was willing to let God use him in this amazing way. He went straight to Dorcas’s home, where he was greeted by a group of poor widows who thrust into his hands robes and tunics Dorcas had sewed for them with her own hands. It’s as if they were saying, “Look, Peter! See what a good woman Dorcas was? She deserves to live!” Sending them all out of the room, Peter fell to his knees and prayed. Then, confident that God would answer his prayer, Peter commanded Dorcas to get up. The Bible tells us, “She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive” (Acts 9:40, 41).

What a breathtaking demonstration of God’s power in those exciting days right after Jesus’ resurrection, when the early church was filled with God’s Spirit. But what relevance does this event have for us today, when such dramatic miracles rarely if ever occur?

While neither you nor I may ever see a person raised from the dead until Jesus returns, we can be privileged to witness and experience spiritual resurrection. The most dramatic kind of “resurrection” occurs when a sinner gives her life to God and receives forgiveness and a fresh start. But I believe that God can work many other miracles of resurrection in our lives. He can give new life to dying relationships, to trampled hopes, to expired dreams and to burned-out “do-gooders.”

When Dorcas lay down on her bed and the last breath escaped from her body, she was no longer useful. She was no longer a strong, able woman who could fix any problem and rise to any challenge. In dying, Dorcas demonstrated in the most dramatic way possible her human weakness. She had no power left, either to help anyone else or to save herself. Nothing could save her but the power of God.

We modern “superwomen” need to recognize, when we teeter on the edge of burnout, that we’re not all-powerful. While we can be God’s agents in bringing His love to a broken world, we’re not God. We’re human. We have limitations. We need eight hours of sleep nightly and a Sabbath day off once a week. We need God’s power-His resurrection power-flowing through us.

When the effort of being good, of doing good, of serving, helping, loving and caring seems so great that you’re ready to burn out, stop. Lie down, both physically and spiritually. Rest in the knowledge that God is in control and you’re not. And allow a space in your life for His healing, His resurrection power, to reach you.

Don’t keep working till you drop, as Dorcas did. Rather, drop to your knees “or into a comfortable chair” right now and ask God to refill and restore you. Taking time to renew your spirit isn’t selfish—it’s essential.

This article originally appeared in Women of Spirit magazine