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The firstborn syndrome

You're going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself.
Exodus 18:18

When our oldest daughter was a little tyke, every night after she had gone to bed, I would march myself over to her playpen and neatly arrange all of her strewn-about toys. My wife, wiser than I was about such things, cautioned me that this was not a good idea. "First, you're already doing enough," she said. "Second, if you always do it for her, she will never learn to do it for herself."

Not taking heed to her caveat, I continued in my ways-and became increasingly bitter about having to do all of my daughter's picking up; our daughter never did learn to clean up after herself. Instead, she learned that if she didn't do it, I would. A stressed-out dad and a sloppy daughter were the only results of my meddling.

A few years ago a study reported that a disproportionate number of Christian leaders are firstborn children, who, as studies have shown, are rigidly responsible. Firstborns, myself included, take great pride in being responsible and doing more than is required of them. As a result, we often overburden ourselves with responsibilities, shortchanging the people we work with by not giving them the opportunity to use their gifts.

Moses was that kind of leader, but he was fortunate enough to have a father-in-law who challenged his detrimental behavior. "Son," said Jethro, "you are not allowing the people to build a sense of responsibility."

Taking Jethro's advice to heart, Moses began to pass on some of his responsibilities to others, holding on only to those that were most central to his role as a leader. It was a good move both for Moses and for the people. The result was reduced stress, both for Moses and for the Israelites.

Steve McKinley


What burden am I carrying that I should be sharing with someone else?


Oh, Lord, help me loosen my grip on

"I owe whatever success I have attained, by and large, to my ability to surround myself with people who are smarter than I am."

—Andrew Carnegie, nineteenth-century

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