I recently started listening to a new-to-me podcast named “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership with Ruth Haley Barton,” by Transforming Center. Host Ruth Barton caught my attention right off the bat in the first episode entitled "Invitation to Retreat/Dangerously Tired." In it, Barton shares her own story of being "dangerously tired," experiencing burn-out, and a two-year period during which she took a step back from the church altogether in order to refocus on her relationship with God.
I know me some burn-out.
I think most of us who are deeply involved with church-life, trying our best to act out the call of God on our lives, either have already experienced burn-out or run an almost daily risk of doing so. It's hard to know how to balance God's call to action with God's call to renewing our energies. God wants us to spend time deepening our spiritual relationship with God; and yet too often our time away to do so gets put on the list of "things to do when I have time," or "things to do when everything else gets done," or "things that are a nice luxury to talk about but aren't a reality for me."
And then burn-out hits.
We use the phrase "burned out" so much that I think it's lost some of its dangerous implication. When we're overtired, we refer to being "burned out." When we get frustrated with doing the same thing over and over again, we refer to being "burned out." The reality is that those uses of the phrase "burned out" are just dabbing our toes in the seas of what "burned out" truly means.
Burned out means being no longer able to function normally.
Burned out means feeling deep anger in our stomach, or the twist of anxiety in our gut, or the flare of resentment when we think about doing things we used to love doing.
It means getting headaches when we think about even entering the building.
It means flashes of anger in response to perfectly reasonable questions.
It means dreams of our teeth crumbling in our mouths, dreams of crying, dreams of yelling at people or people yelling at us.
Burn-out is a deeply painful, demoralizing reality.
I have experienced true burn-out three times in my life: once as a college student, once as a young adult, and once within the last 10 years. Each time was emotionally, physically, and spiritually devastating. I felt like I wasn't being a good enough Christian because I was having these feelings. Each time I ended up pulling back from most of my commitments because I needed space for healing. You'd think I'd have learned from the first experience--certainly from the second--but no, it took the third time for me to say to myself, "Hey, maybe there are ways to avoid this." What I finally learned is that yes, it is actually possible to avoid burn-out. I am very careful these days about balancing my energy, about discerning what God is truly asking of me in any situation (including discerning what situations aren't mine to handle), and--and here's the tricky one--I have learned to draw boundaries and ask for help when needed.
Burn-out is one of the prime reasons why ordained clergy leave the ministry.
Burn-out is one of the reasons faithful and committed laypeople leave the church.
Burn-out happens everywhere, but I will be so bold to suggest that it happens specifically among people of faith who are deeply committed to their faith communities. But we don't like to talk about it openly because we're afraid it makes us sound less faithful, less committed, less Christian.
We're in Lent which, although it's supposed to be a time of deep reflection and spiritual renewal, often ends up being one of the busiest times on the church calendar. I'm here to ring a cautionary bell: Balance your energies. Really prioritize taking time to just rest in God. Just rest. Don't turn your prayer time into a task list by making sure you're on the right day in your devotional or madly writing down all the intecessory prayers you have to remember--just rest.
Rest in God.
"The Dangers of Workism, Especially for Pastors" www.faithandleadership.com/alaina-kleinbeck-dangers-workism-especially-pastors?utm_source=FL_newsletter&utm_medium=content&utm_campaign=FL_feature
"Understanding Church Burnout and What to Do about It" business.baylor.edu/Phil_vanauken/ChurchBurnout.html
Rev. Dr. Sandra Hasenauer
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