HOW TO TELL IF YOU ARE ON THE BRINK OF BURNOUT

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!

18 thoughts on “HOW TO TELL IF YOU ARE ON THE BRINK OF BURNOUT

  1. …burn-out is inevitable…but we don’t realize it…we get so busy trying to fix ppl..& be available for others’ problems & whims…a pastor’s wife once told me that she was glad to retire because so many 3 a.m.calls were always the same & it seemed that no-one was relying on GOD for anything…she was burned-out…ppl don’t learn, sometimes …we have a society that likes to be served & entertained…it is exhilarating to meet a few people who are …redeemed & will pass knowledge on to others…what others do with that knowledge & redemption , is up to them…we cannot get RID of the darkness, but we CAN be a LIGHT in the darkness…thank-you for your service, Sheila Harper !

    1. This sounds like great words of wisdom to me! Thank you for your kind words, but really I’m just being transparent because I’m hearing these same stories from so many. It’s a shame ministry folks are pushed to this limit, but it’s a realization in this day and age. We are a narcissistic society…

  2. Thank you for sharing your heart Sheila. This struggle is real and I appreciate your blog post and everyone’s comments. I look forward to reading more.
    Matthew 11:29-30

    1. This post seems to have really resonated with so many who are in ministry and leadership. I’m still learning so much and still feel as though I’m walking out of this fog that I’ve been in. Things happen and I have to “counsel” myself out of the old feelings and into the new way of thinking that pain in leadership is inevitable and I can run from it or embrace it! God always has something for us in the process. Love you girl, keep up the great work you are doing!

  3. Thank you for being so transparent. Yeah, we’ve been there. When you are committed to working in the Lord’s field, it can sometimes be beautiful “amber waves of grain”, but it is also a battlefield . Marriages and funerals, blessings and betrayals, glory and guts.
    I remember a time when the stresses began to show up in a number of health issues. I was told by several professionals that I needed to “try and relax.” I remember thinking that “try” and “relax” were opposite ideas. It really only added to the stress of another thing I should be doing.
    We all reach these times in our ministry lives for different reasons and on different pathways. One of the verses that has meant a lot to me and I still hold on to is Job 23:10…”He know the way I take, and when He has tried me I shall come forth as gold.:
    What I have learned so far is that no one thing causes burnout and and no one thing cures it. I have discovered that whatever God uses, on the other side I have learned more about His love for me and His strength in my weakness.

    “Who is this coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved?” SoS 8:5

    1. What incredible words of wisdom Barbara. Thank you so much for taking time to read this blog and comment. It means the world to me. I know you have experienced all of what I’m talking about. I’m realizing slowly, as disillusioned as I have been by the hurts and betrayals, what I have gone through is nothing compared to Jesus. Why would we be exempt from the same pains He experienced? As hurtful as some words have been, instead of trying to end the pain I have to embrace it and learn all I can from it. The pain and hard times are not going to end and I think I kept expecting them to. We’ll get through this together Barbara. I’m glad Crossroads has been a sweet solace for you and George. We treasure your friendship and we’re so happy we’re in this together!

  4. Sheila, thank you for your transparency. I totally get it and have experienced it sometimes when loved ones die. I know that may sound morbid, but jealousy has surfaced at times. I know I’m not done done with what He wants me to do. I have to slay those feelings and remember I was not put here to sit on a bench, a pew, or the sidelines. You’re an amazing woman and because of your faithfulness to what God called you to do, so many lives have changed. I look forward to reading what you have to share! Love you!

    2 Tim 1:6.

    1. Thank you so much Karen for taking time to read this blog! I love you so much and am so grateful for you and your amazing example you show to the world. Thank you for that! And yes those are feelings that surface that make you scratch your head and wonder if you’re completely off your rocker! Or at least that’s what I did that day…haha God’s not done with you Karen, not by a longshot. You are a mighty warrior! Running your race with speed and accuracy! KEEP GOING!

  5. Burnout can look differently. For me it was noticing I looked forward to days off rather than days at work. I began thinking of the numbers and feeling unsuccessful–was it me?– rather than the person whose life had changed for the better having gone through the program. I remembered something written by a bishop imprisoned in a foreign country lamenting to God he couldn’t do his work. His answer came back, “but you have ME.”
    Sometimes we are forced to slow down, like your heart scare. For me, it is a cracked hip and I feel less useful.
    So I ask myself, is it my job to produce or to love God. I think the latter. Letting some of the work go gives someone else a chance to say yes to God’s call. It is not my job to save the world. It is God’s.
    Our priests have a sabbatical practice option to nurture their vocations. Perhaps we need a sabbatical too.

    1. Pat, truer words could not have been spoken. You are exactly right. We get so caught up in the world’s definition of success that we forget the one person God brought to us to help. In our jobs we DO start feeling like we have to save the world. If I’m sleeping, babies are dying, and lives are being ruined. But we have to shake that mindset and realize without rest, without being refilled with God’s awesome call on our lives, then we’re no good to anyone! Thank you so much for taking time to read this blog. I am praying for you and I thank God He has us in this together! 🙂 Love you sweet friend.

  6. Its that moment when you realize that you spend to much time sitting in a chair just staring at nothing…am I just lazy..depressed…whats wrong with me? I have so much to be thankful for..must be something wrong with me….. Thanks Sheila….

    1. YES! All actions and thoughts I’ve experienced. And then you feel guilty because you can’t snap out of it. It’s a tired that sleep doesn’t fix! Love you so much Cindy Gordon and am very grateful you took time to read this blog!

  7. Sheila, thank you for your open and frank confession. Seems it would be easy for selfless, giving people to get caught in burnout. Thank you for being willing to share your experiences and discoveries. I look forward to hearing more.

      1. you and i are more alike than you think..sweet girl..yours is on a larger scale..but burnout is burnout..no excuses..can’t wait to see more of your blog on this..

        1. Thank you so much Sandra for taking time to read this. I am so grateful for you and your friendship. I hope this blog will speak to others too and keep them from experiencing this as well! Love you so much!

The fact that you took the time to read my blog truly means the world to me. Please reply and let me know you were here. I LOVE REPLIES AND COMMENTS!