Dilemma: How much is too much?

I am having the worst time deciding what to do about something and I thought maybe y’all would be able to help me figure this out. Or at least, maybe writing about it will help me clarify it for myself.

One of the highlights of our summer is Family Camp, a 4 day weekend where people from our church rent a campground and spend a weekend together in the mountains. Our kids look forward to it almost as much as Christmas, and we do as well. Everyone at the camp takes turns helping with the dishes and cleaning. But for many years the lion’s share of the cooking has been done by a handful of hardworking ladies.

Last year those ladies stepped down. A friend and I agreed to help out, with the idea that if we could get more people involved, it would not be such an enormous burden on any one person. We wrote out menus, made flow charts for every step of preparation, figured out how much food we’d need, and shopped for a couple days before camp. We hauled the food up and divided it in the walk-in for the various meals. We also organized the volunteer list, assigning various people to help out with different meals, instead of the same 5 people doing all the cooking at every meal.

In general it worked well, though by the end of camp I was an utter wet noodle from the stress of it all. It was truly a huge undertaking. And even with lots of people helping, John still found me in that camp kitchen more often than not– which of course meant that he was responsible for the kids the majority of the time at camp.

So here it is, nearly a year later, and the thought of being in charge of the food again is pressing down on me, even with the able partnership of my good friend. On one hand, I think, well, we did it last year and it turned out OK. It should be easier this year, especially with the flow charts for each meal already being in existence. Certainly I am as capable of this job as anyone, and I am not the only one there with lots of young kids. And I truly do not help out in the ministries of our church in any other way (unless supplying a kid or three in every Sunday school class counts!).  I ought to just suck it up and do it again.

On the other hand, I wonder why on earth it has to be me to be in charge of this. Doing it one year doesn’t lock me into the job forever after all. Certainly there are other capable people, perhaps older people who are not actively parenting as many young children as I am. I would so much just like to enjoy camp with my kids, without fretting over whether I bought enough salad dressing or whether the lasagna will get done in time or if people will like this or that new twist to the menu.

One day I think one way and another day I lean the opposite direction and I just don’t know what is right to do…. anyone else been in this dilemma? How did you handle it? Did you feel good about what you chose?

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  1. Being one of those people who have a hard time saying no I had to pray and pray and pray before God knocked me out of commission for several months meaning that I HAD to let someone else learn the job and take over. My point? Pray about it pray for wisdom and if your gut says don’t do it then don’t do it–then stick with what you say. There may be someone that God has planned to take it over who will greatly benefit from doing that very job for some reason and by doing it you are keeping them from stepping up to bat.

  2. Hmmmm….
    Maybe you could volunteer to organize it all beforehand. But, during the week of camp, ask people to volunteer to be in charge for one meal each in the kitchen (so… 12 meals would mean 12 volunteers in charge for the prep work and then other people helping out.) People could even work in pairs to be in charge. Then you could be “on-call” should you be needed.

    Having done it one year, you know the system as do most of the helpers, so it will be easier this year. And, you seem really really really organized, so as long as you have all the detailed instructions printed out and everything clearly labeled, other people would probably be fine.

    OR… if that doesn’t work. Could you and your friend find one other person to partner with you? Then you could each take a meal (i.e. you could be there for all the breakfasts, friend could be there for all the lunches, new person could be there for all the dinners). That way no one is spending ALL their time in the kitchen. Or find two more people and each take a day.

    Just some ideas off the top of my head. The family camp sounds really fun! I’m sure your taking this on has been a huge blessing for your church. (sorry for the extremely long comment…)

  3. A wise friend once told me that if you only say yes to something because you feel you are expected to or because no one else will do it, you are robbing someone else of the right to serve. God calls us to use our gifts…I’m sure you are using your gifts in other ways and serving in other capacities!

  4. Saw this post today from author Tim Ferris – http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2008/03/26/the-lazarus-philosophy-the-danger-of-expectations-and-the-beauty-of-duty/ – seems to apply perfectly:

    Here are some excellent tenets of self-interested (not self-centered) lifestyle design from The Notebooks of Lazarus Long by the inimitable Robert Heinlein:

    Do not confuse “duty” with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different. Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect.

    But there is no reward at all for doing what other people expect of you, and to do so is not merely difficult, but impossible. It is easier to deal with a footpad [a thief] than it is to deal with a leech who wants “just a few minutes of your time, please – this won’t take long.” Time is your total capital, and the minutes of your life are painfully few. If you allow yourself to fall into the vice of agreeing to such requests, they quickly snowball to the point where these parasites will use up 100 percent of your time – and squawk for more!

    So learn to say no – and to be rude about it when necessary.

    Otherwise you will not have time to carry out your duty, or to do your own work, and certainly no time for love and happiness. The termites will nibble away your life and leave none of it for you.

    This rule does not mean that you must not do a favor for a friend, or even a stranger. But let the choice be yours. Don’t do it because it is “expected” of you.

    From reading your blog, it sounds like what you really want is to be able to spend time with your kids away from home. That is your work, your self-chosen duty. The other will “nibble away your life and leave none of it for you”.

  5. Personally I would hire some one neutral to do the work. Shopping, prep and clean up. I have a friend who cooks for family camps (when asked) she really enjoys it and she loves the extra spending money to. Her girls also pitch in.
    Unless God is calling you to serve I would step down.

  6. why not round up a town hall type meeting before camp starts and have all of the families going attend the meeting….or at least one person from each family- and that way you can “run it by everyone” that this year you are trying to get every family to volunteer for one meal in the kitchen- we did this and it worked out great….. it was a fun experience and you were still spending time with your family! good luck-

  7. Keep in mind that you do do ministry–daily. Your family is your ministry. People seem to think that doesn’t count, but in Christ’s eyes it does. There will be plenty of opportunity to serve in that capacity later in life.

  8. Hubby and I did that very thing for 4 years. We were part of the Hospitalitu Committee. Church camp, funerals, convention for local churches, etc – whew! We had 2 couples on the committee each serving a 2 year term. Then a year break before you could be re-elected
    (unless you were willing to be re-elected like we were).

    Serving is not one of my top spiritual gifts. Moreso my hubby’s. I entered into the responsibility seeking to grow that area of my life, connect with people that are servants/givers (often more quiet people), and just for the experience of feeding crowds of 500.

    Like you, I battled each year with whether I wanted to continue on. People do come to depend on you to be there for them each year. We let everyone know that a certain year would be our last year. Gave them an advanced notice so to speak.

    I totally understand the desire to want to connect with you family. It so hard. Maybe you could announce this will be your last year. Then maybe your church could get into a tradition of a hospitality committee type thing with 2 year terms.

    I can’t believe it has been a year already – I remember when you were prepping for camp last year.

  9. Beg off.

    You ahve two extra kidlets to care for this year 🙂

    But, do it the way Andrea said .. it’s much nicer. (LOL)

  10. Pray about it — read your posts form last year — pray some more, talk to hubby, realize you have 2 more kids to love on – maybe this year needs to be about bonding with all your kids. Eyes to Christ sister. 😉

  11. texasknights says:

    You might ask yourself why your family goes every year. Is it to serve or to build your family? Not that either one is wrong but if you can answer that question with certainty, then you just might have yourself an answer.
    If it is to be with your family and build relationships, then feeling like you must be on kitchen call all the time certainly won’t do it. ANd if you feel called (that is where that prayer stuff everybody mentioned comes in) to serve other families in this manner, then go for it.
    Oh girl! Your dilema sounds so much like my life. I can’t say no but once I say yes I live in a sea of resentment and am stressed – which does my family NO GOOD.

  12. Any way your friend or someone can take over at least for your family’s week at the camp?

  13. There were many positions in our church congregation for which I am highly qualified but which I refused to take until my youngest son was 10 years old.
    Those early years of raising them, I was much needed within the family, as my husband’s gift isn’t with detailed needs of littler kids.

    It is difficult to decide what and where and how you need to be, but with all your youngsters and even the name ~~Family Camp~~ well, I think your place now is with them.

    Also, during college and my early 20s, in the summers and Christmas breaks, I worked for a catering service, somebody just starting out with her own business and actually needing someplace to gain exposure.
    I worked a couple weeks in the kitchen of a church camp as a paid employee of the caterer.
    Fond memories for me, and a win-win for business owner and harried volunteer co-ordinator.
    There is a balance within the soul which does not always have financial repercussions.

  14. How many families? How much $ might it cost to hire a catering crew so that everyone can enjoy camp? Just a thought–sometimes things aren’t as costly as people assume; and sometimes those with means are blessed to prime the purse.

  15. I haven’t read through the other comments, so forgive me if this was already mentioned.

    Our church does family camp. And with each family that signs up, one adult volunteers to be doing kitchen help once over the weekend. That way, with numerous families, there are plenty of volunteers working for each meal and everyone only has to do it once. A schedule is made up ahead of time for meals and which volunteers do which work. One person mildly oversees it all – but since she organizes and oversees she doesn’t do any of the kitchen work over the weekend, so it’s much easier for her.

    I hope that made sense!

  16. Mary,

    I just thought of taking it a step further on paper and posting along side the menu all the food that was purchased designated for that meal. This is all we brought, hope it’s enough! No questions need to be asked.
    We had several people offer to go shopping with us this year, so you don’t even need to do that unless you want in on “the fun” if we had 3 teams of 2? MOST IMPORTANT TO ME IS, you have your new daughters to acclimate to camp and have fun! If you really wanted to you could pick ONE meal to help fix IF you wanted to, but we have to let everyone have a chance to pitch in. I guess we could work on getting the sign up sheet going in awhile. What do you think of posting the menu per meal, perhaps people would feel more confident in signing up for the known? rather than fear of the unknown? Just a thought. It’s family camp family style.
    I know, let’s go out to lunch and talk when I get back from my trip.

  17. There is no right or wrong answer here–you have good reasons to make either choice. I think you should pray about it, and then ask your husband what he thinks.

  18. I don’t understand why people assume that you’ll do it again just because you did it once.

    If you haven’t volunteered for a many year commitment just don’t do it. Firmly say you volunteered to handle last year because of the situation but you hadn’t planned and doing it permanently. Also, I really, really think you shouldn’t this year because of your new girls.

    This is the one thing that frustrates me about Churches. I’ve seen this happen time and time again. Assumptions and lack of volunteers and once you do something to help it’s like you signed your name in blood that you’ll do it till you die.

    Don’t do it.

  19. Mary, I know just how you feel! I find myself in those positions very often. It is my dear husband that helps keep me in check, making sure that I don’t get in over my head. It seems when I do get in over my head, I get irritable with my husband and kids- not good! I am not alone in this either. Our church has a membership of about 85 and it always seems like the same 10 ladies are always doing the work. It gets frustrating! We have found that seeking out some of the ladies that are less involved (and don’t have younger children!) to help out with some of these tasks has really helped. Don’t feel badly about asking, they are usually thrilled that they have been asked. They end up enjoying the task and want to do it more! Our church does a family camping weekend too. Each family is responsible for their own meals. It works out great because each family is responsible for their own meals, preparation and clean-up. We will usually do one or two meals together that is the pitch-in kind. We might do one main dish (chili is always good) but everyone makes their own pot, then we all dump it in together. We usually do a simple sign up that clarifys who will bring dessert, bread or salads. Works great! Another thing we do is simplify, simplify, simplify! Whoever said that camping had to be all about the cooking and cleaning? It is supposed to be about being together as a family relaxing and fellowshipping together. We all plan simpler meals such as hamburgers on the grill, meals in crock-pots, wraps and such.

    I hope this helps, I will be thinking and praying for your decision. It isn’t an easy one, I know!

  20. I work for a church and we so long for our volunteers to use their gifts and not volunteer because they feel they have to. And even if they are gifted in an area it’s ok to say no! But it’s also true that serving is not always easy but the reward is boundless!

    I agree with what Jeana said. Spend some serious time in prayer and then consult with your Hubs. I know my Hubby always seems to put everything in perspective for me. God will give you peace.


  21. Pray and think and talk to your husband. But you know that.

    I don’t know the specifics of your group and camp area, but I’m wondering what could change about the structure of meals for the weekend. Sometimes things that are so overwhelming that no one wants to take them simply need to be scuttled or revised with some out-of-the-box thinking, even if it’s not the ideal everyone would like. Sometimes things seem like they are unchangeable, but then if you really think about it, why not?
    Of course everyone needs to eat, and it’s probably a great communal time. Would it be possible to use those wonderful flow charts and good division of labor to prepare fewer meals for the whole group to lighten the load on the big group cooks, and require families to bring their own food for the rest? One big meal a day? Families would then bring whatever they would usually do for camping, according to their own tastes and energy level (I know some families who keep it simple and eat granola bars all weekend!). Such a change from the traditional set-up would probably bring protest… but then you’ll find out who the traditional arrangement matters to most, and you can take down their names and sign THEM up to help!

  22. delurking here: i think that if a job is covered, people are less likely to volunteer and help. So it might be useful to let the people in your church know that preparing the meals is a huge job and therefore you need X many people to help staff the kitchen. I think a direct approach is a good first choice: articulate what you need to the people who can fulfill that, and go from there.

    I will say that since you did it last year, you might have to mentor the people who do it next, to bring them up to speed. But it’s ok to delegate and groom the next “head cook” so you can pass the baton.

  23. Hi Mary,

    I agree with Melissa. We do a camping trip every year with our homeschool group and everyone is responsible for their own meals. One night we do a group dinner which is usually either chili or grilled. If it’s grilled people bring what they want grilled for their own family and we share salads and desserts (everyone brings something). We usually have a couple of the dads grilling. It’s soooo much easier to have people responsible for their own families.

    This has made both our family (extended) camping trips and our homeschool camping trip much more manageable and relaxing.

    Whatever you decide – have fun.


  24. onehopesixfutures says:

    The question my friends and I are learning to ask each other is, “I know you CAN, but SHOULD you”. As moms to many we are capable of quite a lot, but is it always best for our families?

  25. Since you already have “the plan” in place, why not divide it up between every family. I’m not sure how many families there will be, but every meal can be done by one, two, or three families. Everyone will have a stint in the kitchen, but only for a few hours all weekend.

    Get people together to divide everything up in advance like you have been, then give people their lists and let it happen.

  26. Okay, Mary. When you were done with camp last year, didn’t you say something along the lines of “don’t ever let me do that again!”?

    Seriously, I think you have to consider what season of life you are in, and therefore what things make sense for your family. Certainly you of all people deserve a break from cooking – you practically cook for your own “camp” every day! Besides having young children who need your attention, you have two new girls who weren’t with you at camp last year. With such a new experience for them, I would bet it would be helpful to have both their parents at hand (to help deal with the lows, and share in the highs). Even though you are probably tempted to justify “our girls will have been home for almost a year by then” you still have every right to consider yourselves a new, adjusting family which needs to limit things and take things slow.

    Also, while I feel it is every Christian’s responsibility to BE a part of the body of Christ, not just observe it, I think our roles shift with the seasons in our lives. In our home we have realized that with so many recent changes in our family, it is time for us to take a (temporary) step back in our ministries. That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to continue to be involved in church, or that we won’t start leading new groups, but for now we need to focus on the health of our family. In the Bible it even says our priorities should be God, Spouse, Family…then Ministry.

    Climbing down from my soap box now… 🙂

  27. Sweet Mary ~ please, don’t do this! =)

    You need to leave a vacuum in this position so that someone who is at a more available season of life can step up and serve. You will do plenty of service at camp, meeting the needs of your young family. I’m sure those in your church will understand that you have even more children than last year and it is not your turn to serve in the kitchen.

    When I let opportunities to serve in my church pass me by, because I need to focus on my own family, I remind myself that my children will not always be young and I plan to serve the moms of littles when my littles are grown.

    Remember, it will only be a few years until your smaller children and your newly-home children are much less in need of your service.

    Enjoy your family at camp. Let someone else do the cooking for a change! =)

    In Love,
    Brenda on the S OR Coast

  28. Hire someone to do the shopping, cooking and cleaning. After all, it is a job that needs to be done.

    I know that this may be a new way of thinking for your church–it is easy to fall into the “but we’ve always done it this way” thinking. And the “why pay for someone when we can do it ourselves” syndrome. And the “but we have to keep costs done” idea.

    But here is another way to look at it: You can provide someone with some much needed income. You can give the caterer a budget and a simple menu with less expensive foods. You can use your time and your gifts to be with your fellow church members and your family.

    We recently started doing this in my synagogue for our dinners. We pay a little extra (it really is very little), the food is better (no arguments about whose chicken recipe to use), we all help clean up the dining room, and we help our community by giving someone a job. I believe that this has helped the cook we hire get more jobs from members of our group or others who we tell about.

    My kids see enough of me in the kitchen. They need to see me as part of community, too.

    It is a win-win situation!

  29. Shannon H says:

    I think you’ve done more than your share by taking it on last year (and making menus and flow charts for years to come) and someone else (who doesn’t have 10 kids) can step up this year. You can sign on to cook one or two meals during the trip, but what you described last year wasn’t a family vacation and that’s sad. You should be making memories with your kids, not stuck in the kitchen. I’m sure there are others willing and able to take on the job.

  30. Don’t do it!

    Do enjoy the camping.

    I am reading a fabulous book at the moment, Last Child In the Woods by Richard Louv. A must read, I know you would enjoy.


  31. Hi Mary, my first thought when reading your post was that because you are asking the question, it already gives the answer. If you were keen and excited and motivated to serve, you wouldn’t have had this dilemma. It sounds to me like you’re tired of doing all the work, and it’s someone else’s turn. (And, I wonder why everyone who eats isn’t helping with the work?? One person from each family group at least should contribute, and older kids can do dishes too!)
    I’m also a person who finds it hard to say “no”, and often I struggle even with deciding to attend events if I’m concerned about the children being tired or unwell or whatever. My DH always says…”if you’re struggling over the decision so much, you probably shouldn’t do it. If you had the grace for it, or the desire to do it, you’d know and just do it!”
    I know sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do, but if we’re always dragging ourselves to do things we think we ‘should’ do somehow we kill the life inside us. The life of grace should be more about “want to” ‘s and “compelled to” ‘s and “passionate about”‘s.
    In the words of someone more eloquent than myself:

    “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~ Howard Thurman

  32. Michelle says:

    This is always such a tricky balancing act! Many people are content to sit back and watch just a couple people do all the work, because nobody says anything. For the week of our 4-H fair, all the families with animals staying the week have to camp onsite. We’ve worked out a meal rotation that has worked very well for all of us.
    Depending on the number of families you have. You take the meals you want to have cooked for the group, in our case it was just lunch and dinner from Sunday night through Saturday night. Once you have the number of meals determined, you assign families to each meal and they have to work on the details of planning the meal, the amount of food they’ll need, and clean up the kitchen. If you’re only responsible for 1 meal the whole time, it takes a lot of stress out of the rest of the week, and there’s no guilt over not helping out since you’ve already taken your turn.
    Since you already have flow charts and menus prepared, a large share of the work is already done! It sounds like you’d have lots of families to participate, so each group could discuss what parts of the meals they’re doing and even divide set up and clean up tasks as well.

  33. I’m thinking that these ideas about an all camp meeting prior to the camp are good ideas. If you go, you eat. If you eat, you help. That’s how your house runs right? All of the kids pitch in with some job, big or small, so that everyone can have a meal. So why is camp different. No difference between a family of 12 or a family of 1200. If everyone is to be served a meal than everyone needs to help. I think every family will hear what you are saying that it is too big of a job for small team to handle. There first response may very well be “But I’m going to camp to be with my family not to work the kitchen.” But given a moment to think of that the whole room will be saying the same thing and everyone goes hungry having “family time”.

    You’ve done a lion’s share of the work with the flow charts so stay on board to help the newbies who join up and are intimidated by the word “flow chart” (that would be me) but take the passenger seat when it comes to shopping, and daily meal prep. Direct and delegate, don’t be super mom who can carry a church.

    And the sneaky way to get help, an ultimatum. I’ve known more than a few church activities that set, no volunteers signed up until the youth minister or women’s minister announced that the event would have to be cancelled if they didn’t have x# volunteers by x date. Not a nice way maybe but the easter egg hunt or the trick or treat always went off after that:)

  34. I understand your dilema wholeheartedly! I am a pastor’s wife and I find myself in this situation constantly. My heart yearns to serve God and to teach my children the value of serving Christ and His body but struggle with the toll it takes on our family. As some have already stated, go before the Lord in prayer and ask for His wisdom. I would also encourage you to look practically at your season of life and see how this area of service fits into your priorities of being a godly woman, which are 1) growing in the knowlege of Christ, 2) loving and serving your husband and 3) training your children in the knowledge of Christ. If you believe that this act of service falls in line with these biblical principles, then go for it and serve with a joyful heart. If not, gracefully step back and let someone else have the joy of serving. If no one steps up, remember that God is sovereign and will take care of it.

  35. It might be helpful to…ask for help! 🙂 I think that when people see a job is covered, they’re likely to think their assistance isn’t needed. Sometimes people need to be told outright. So maybe just be explicit with the congregation that you need X many volunteers as team leaders, not just as cooks.

    You might have to help (or teach them to) organize, since you’ll have the experience from the previous year, but there’s nothing wrong with grooming a person for the task — in fact, it makes it a lot easier to provide continuity for a job when you’re looking forward like that. Since part of the grooming process is sharing the work, even the organizational parts won’t be done by you and your friend alone.

    Also by identifying what roles are needed to get the event running smoothly, it’s easier to fill those gaps when needed.

    *there might be a double post from me somewhere, I tried to post this earlier but my comment disappeared in the ether. 🙂

  36. Mary,
    I’ll pray for you. Take your direction from your husband. Let him decide. He’ll know what to do. You can always cook, but you can’t always be together as a family.

  37. I’m kind of like that, too. If I have to teach Sunday School, I get so nervous and stressed that I can’t enjoy church until the SS hour is over. I don’t think we’re always endowed with the ability to enjoy using our gifts in proportion with our skill in using those gifts, so surely there are some times when we just have to say “I’m serving, I’m stressed, but that’s my calling.” But if it means hating camp, whew…

    How about going halfsies with someone? So, for the first part of the week, you’re under stress and in charge. And then, for the second part of the week, you don’t have to do anything with the food *at all*. That way you aren’t dividing stressful labor every day, you’re dividing it in shifts… Just a thought.

  38. My FIL pastored a church where he was determined that nothing would be done if people had to be guilted into doing it. He wanted joyful participation or none at all.

    One of the things that resulted from that was that if there weren’t people who wanted or felt led to do things like teach Sunday school, there would be no Sunday school.

    I assume everyone at family camp likes to eat right? That if they are told that help is needed in the food department they will step up for the camp they enjoy and the food they want to eat. 🙂

    I don’t know how many people there are, but what if each family took care of one meal? YOu could give them all a budget and a food list and every one who is signed up for family camp also signs up to shop for and prepare one meal. Singles and small families could be grouped together for meals like one takes care of dinner one takes acre of beverages and dessert.

    HOw does that sound?

  39. When our church has family camp, every summer, it’s mostly about encouraging relationship. Everyone does their own meals, except for one big potluck. If smaller groups of close friends want to get together to potluck they can, but this way, there isn’t a lot of work for any one person.

  40. Heather is right. Read and re-read her posts.

    Your own family is the mission field God has given you.

    Unless the overwhelming response to your prayers is a clear “Yes, you need to do this”– (and I am talking about a voice from above, not the people around you—-although of course, God can use whatever messengers He likes) — I absolutely would not commit to this.

    Trust us. We are objective. We don’t know you—-except through your blog—-which is actually more than I know a lot of my friends, come to think of it!—; but I have no dog in this fight, just a lot of objectivity.

    If you are listening to the people around you, let some of them be YOUR FAMILY. Are you trying to tell me that John thinks it’s a good idea….not to mention your children! Don’t they want their mama to be enjoying camp as well? Set a good example for recreation! Be a helper—of course!—but YOUR CHILDREN and husband are the mission field God has called you too.

    (Oh! and keeping all of us informed on how things are going in your mission field, too, of course.)