My pastor husband and I were walking down the familiar halls of the hospital. We were visiting a lady from our church who had a non life-threatening illness and had to be put in for a couple of days. As I stood by her bed I felt an old friend surface. I was aware of what I felt, but it made no sense to me. Why in the world would I feel…jealous?
I went back to my office that day wondering what the heck was going on? Why would I feel jealousy toward a lady in the hospital? As I picked apart these feelings trying to get to the root, I realized how odd this was. Most women are jealous of Victoria’s Secret supermodels, but no, I’m jealous of a woman laying in the hospital. Suddenly it hit me why! She was stopped. She had an excuse to stop. No one expected anything from her. She didn’t have to answer as to why she wasn’t at work, why she couldn’t make an appointment, why her house wasn’t clean, why she couldn’t pick the kids up at school, why she didn’t get the newsletter written in time, why she didn’t make that bank deposit. The why’s stopped and I felt jealous of her, and a little embarrassed at myself. Okay, a lot embarrassed.
At that moment I looked at my life and wondered where my mind was. I was healthy, and instead of thanking God for my health I felt jealousy toward someone wishing for theirs.
I can’t imagine even one of you reading this blog relating to what I am saying, and that’s all right. I’m just being totally transparent here and allowing you in to the far out way my mind thinks sometimes. After telling myself I needed to slow down, get some stuff off my plate, live in the moment more, blah, blah, blah. I promised myself I would and I did for about a nano second.
Fast forward two years and my husband has me hauled into the car and on our way to the emergency room thinking I’m having a heart attack. I’m scared, he’s scared, I’m wondering if I’m really having a freakin heart attack at 48 years old! I go through a battery of tests, and as I’m laying under one of the machines I hear God clearly speak into my mind these words,
“Is this what you want?”
My tests came back great. I had a healthy heart! But I knew God was trying to get my attention. I needed to slow down. I needed to get some things off my plate. I needed to work through some of the hurts and betrayals suffered at the hands of “friends”. I needed to be more present in the moments of my life and not constantly thinking about the next meeting, the next plane to catch, the next whatever was thrown at me. I desperately needed to make some changes to get some of the stress out of my life, but what? Will the world fall apart without me? Will people be lost and wondering in the wilderness if I’m not there to lead the way? Will the world stop spinning? I was afraid to find out. I went back into my life and made a couple of changes. Those changes relieved a little pressure, but only for about a minute this time.
Those of you who know me know I’m wound pretty tightly. I’m easily excitable, I have a flair for the dramatic, and everything is larger than life. I started noticing months after the ER scare that I didn’t “feel” things like I used to. I know that sounds a little cheesy, but when you’re used to feeling things big, when you don’t, it’s noticeable. I wasn’t excited about great news. I didn’t get teary-eyed at what used to make me cry. I didn’t feel love for people I hadn’t seen in a long time. I wasn’t sad when someone was no longer in my life. I didn’t care when I saw certain injustices. I noticed that my anger level was quicker and louder than it used to be. My tears now came at moments that made no sense. I didn’t know what was happening to me. It was like someone turned the light off and I was groping in the darkness trying to find the switch to turn it back on.
I started making sure I took a day off, I started trying to get rid of stressors in my life, I started praying a whole lot more, but nothing was working. I was completely numb…scrambling. I kept trying to make the changes I had made before but this time nothing was changing. I knew it was probably just menopause. Isn’t everything menopause’s fault? I knew I would snap back eventually, but I wasn’t, and I didn’t.
Fantasizing about moving to another country, going off the grid, or retreating to a mountain hideaway in Montana seemed like a nice option. I’ve never even been to Montana, but if it was good enough for Gus and Caw it’s good enough for me.
I finally confessed to my husband through tears that I wasn’t sure ministry was for me anymore. I didn’t feel tough enough, and I was experiencing flight mode. Burnout is ugly. Trying to explain burnout to someone who has never experienced it, is like trying to explain the level of tired associated with jetlag. You think you understand it, but then when it hits it’s like a 2X4 between the eyes and you just know, yep that’s jetlag. Well burnout is the same way. I knew that’s where I was, and I needed to get healthy. I felt myself retreating. I knew I was headed in the opposite direction I was supposed to be going but I couldn’t get myself turned around. I always thought burnout was for those people who never rested. I arrogantly believed I was immune because I took a Sabbath. Burnout was for “other people”. I realized I was those other people.
There’s a line in a movie spoken when the main character, Michael, is upset because bad people had done bad things to him. Another character, Hyman, looks at Michael pointing his 80-year-old crooked finger in his face and chokes out angrily, “THIS…IS THE BUSINESS WE’VE CHOSEN!” I think of that line now as I realize ministry is not pretty, it’s not easy, and it’s not for the weak. It’s a place where bad people, myself included, rid themselves of bad things. Others get caught in the crosshairs at times and have to learn to deal with the shots taken. Yes, this is the business we’ve chosen and will continue to choose as long as God will have us.
Over the next few weeks I am going to be writing about burnout and the symptoms, causes, and solutions I experienced and am still working through. I hope you will bear with me, as me and God work through this openly. I know what I am learning is not just for me. There are others reading this blog, I believe, that will see themselves in these symptoms and hopefully be able to stop burnout in its tracks.
Have you ever suffered through burnout? What was your response? What did you learn in the process? Please leave your comments below. Your response may just be what I and others are looking for. Thanks!