The Box Story

The Box Story

I counseled a parishioner who was dissatisfied with his work for a religious agency.

“I can do the work,” he said, “but my heart is not in it.”

Meanwhile, he was pondering the possibility of a new job that was “closer to his center.”

Plus, he disclosed having chronic back pain for the last few weeks, and when he referenced his job, he always gestured as if it was distant from him.

Months later, he thanked me for telling the “box story.”

He said it got him unstuck and he became free to choose a new job.


The box story went something like: “It sounds that the job you’re doing is like picking up a heavy box.

However, it is not the box that is heavy; it is your position in relation to the box that makes it heavy.

If the box were at your feet, you’d bend at the knees and lift.

No problem.

However, the box is on the other side of the table, away from your center, and you have to reach over to pick it up.

Stooping over that far must be tough on your back.”


Rabbi Edwin Friedman, author of Generation to Generation, used to say that what makes for burnout is not overwork.

It is not long hours.

Most people work hard.

The burn-out results from the stress of the relationships (the triangles) within the work.


Adapted from James Lamkin, “Systems Theory and Congregational Leadership: Leaves from an Alchemist’s Journal,” in Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.


Lamkin is Senior Pastor of the Northside Drive Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA. He is on the faculty of Leadership in Ministry at the Atlanta workshop.

The Center for Lifelong Learning offers the Leadership in Ministry workshops in five locations: Atlanta, Boston, Portland OR, Kansas City MO, and Lynchburg, VA. Visit  Leadership in Ministry workshops to learn more.

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