The young woman who said this to me wasn’t talking about dieting.  She was talking about being a mission worker.  And some of us know only too well what she means.

We were exploring together the possibility that God was calling her to serve him abroad, and during the conversation, the issue of finance arose.  She was willing to save up to pay her way, but was hugely reluctant to ask friends to support her.  I don’t want to feel guilty every time I have an ice cream,’ she said.  She clearly felt that by taking other people’s hard-earned money to support her in mission, she had an obligation to use every penny of it on her vocation.

Such a burden of accountability, coupled with a consequently spartan lifestyle utterly devoid of treats, is a recipe for increased levels of stress and may possibly lead to burnout.  Yet so many of us, albeit subconsciously, have attitudes that demonstrate our tacit agreement with this woman.  Is it really wrong to eat ice cream bought with your support gifts?

No, it isn’t.  The people who support us expect to have small treats like ice cream, going out for coffee, or going to the cinema, as part of their normal lives, and they would be genuinely surprised if we didn’t do the same given the opportunity.  They go on holiday, and won’t begrudge us to do so too.  And we need to give ourselves these occasional treats to help us unwind and cope with the demanding life we have been called to.  In fact failure to treat ourselves would even be irresponsible if it results in us becoming unable to work efficiently, or having to take extended sick leave in order to recover.

But this is not just about the money.  It’s about a misplaced sense of accountability.  There’s nothing wrong with accountability: it focuses our activities if we have to report back to our senders on our use of time, finance and resources and the outcomes from them.  But to feel that we have to account scrupulously for every penny is coming uncomfortably close to having to fill in forms detailing how many people have given their lives to Jesus in the last month – it reveals a legalistic mindset that is overly concerned about results.

Jesus did not call us to that.  In fact, if his treatment of the dispute between Mary and Martha is anything to go by, Jesus want us to take time out rather than run around being busy and stressed.

So go ahead and treat yourself to an ice cream!