Before I ever experienced jet lag I would hear people talk about it and thought they just meant they were really, really tired. What was the big deal? (insert eye roll here) Then I went to Europe for the first time and came home tired. I didn't know how tired until I face planted in my lunch the next day. I dragged myself to the car, having to concentrate lifting my foot as high as the curb. I kept my eyes open long enough to crawl in my car, and I slept for two hours in a crowded parking lot. I realized jet lag was more than tired. This was beyond my control!
Burnout is much the same. I think of burnout this way…there's a dark recess of your mind that is the end of you. The bottom of the rope, the last step before the cliff, that moment just before you fall asleep...the end. That place is a different spot for different people. Some people have a deeper reserve and can take much more of what life can throw at them. Others have a shorter fuse and reach their spot of depletion sooner. Either way, burnout takes you to a tired that sleep doesn't fix.
I found that dark recess in my mind I didn't know existed until now. Burnout. I feel stupid and weak admitting I was there. The lack of admission was part of the reason I got there. Because I feel stupid and weak admitting I have this breaking point, and I let my actions and the actions of others break me.
Being in ministry means being about people.
Honestly, I like helping people. I don't say that to make myself seem all humble and servant-like. If you know me, you know servanthood does not come naturally to me. Being bossy on the other hand does come naturally to me. I like helping people realize stuff. I am addicted to that moment when a girl sitting in front of me has the realization she can walk in total freedom from the past bad choices she has made. Or that moment when my husband and I are working through marriage problems with another couple, and they realize sticking it out is far more rewarding than being a quitter. There's no drug or alcoholic beverage that tops the exhilaration of seeing someone turn around and change their behavior for the better. I'm addicted. I admit it. I love seeing people be happy and work out their problems and I LOVE that I get to lead people to God's Word and watch their lives unfold.
There is this turning point, though, when you are in the business of helping people, that often times you start taking in information only to pass it back out. You hear a great sermon, a wonderful song, a cool quote, and you think "I could use that in a blog post. I need to tell my pastor wife friend about this podcast. I need to share this book with my friend who needs to hear this. I need to livestream the sermon so this other person can hear it who is at home with a sick child." And before you know it, everything you take in is getting passed right through you to other people. Even your morning devotions become note-taking sessions for others. Nothing is sticking, nothing is getting snagged for YOU!
...before you know it, everything you take in is getting passed right through you to other people.
During this season of burnout and comeback, we took a sabbatical for three weeks. My husband Jack and I went to a different church one weekend. We wanted to go some place we could just go in and sit down and go to church. We haven't done that in something like 14 years. It was an amazing feeling. I had forgotten how much I love God's Church and His people. Now keep in mind, I was reading the book, "Leadership Pain" by Sam Chand while I was on sabbatical. Guess what the whole sermon was about that morning? You guessed it. Leadership pain.
God definitely had something for me that morning, but instantly I started the pass through. I thought of my friend who needed to hear a certain quote. I thought of all the people I knew who I wanted to hear this sermon. It was an incredible message. But I was in the middle of the pass-through, thinking of all the people I could minister to from this sermon when God so sweetly showed me...maybe it's just you who needs the ministry right now. He showed me how it was alright to let these words from Bishop Walker at Mt. Zion resonate with me, and only me, for that moment. Tears filled my eyes and I allowed myself for the next hour to just sit and soak it all in. I did not want to miss one moment God had for me. I stopped the pass-through and I snagged every morsel taking notes as quickly as my thumbs could type.
It truly was a wonderful feeling. So many of us in ministry want to see our church family succeed. We deeply want the best for them, so we get in this state of pass-through, not retaining any of the wisdom and knowledge we hear from others to teach us, lead us, and help us grow. We eventually become empty; nothing more than a slot machine. Put in a quarter, pull the lever, out comes the advice.
It's okay to keep the pass-throughs going. But take time to snag some for yourself. Or better yet, snag the whole thing for yourself; let it steep for a while; then continue the pass-through. I challenge all my pastor friends, counselor friends, pastor's wife friends to notice how often you go into pass-through mode. The next time you realize it, stop and think about what you're hearing or reading and how it can apply to YOUR life first, and you will take a step in guarding yourself against burnout.
I also would love to hear from you. Those who have suffered from burnout and recovered: What was your strategy? Comment below and let's keep this conversation going. As I have seen from my last post on this subject, I am not the only one going through this. Thanks so much for taking time to tell your story!
Today's entry is Part Two of our December series, Bye, Bye, Burnout. Join guest blogger and ministry wife Sheila Harper each week this month as she takes us further through her own journey to burnout and back. Those who comment each week will be entered into a giveaway to win Sheila's new book, Island Living.
Sheila Harper and her husband, Jack, have been in full-time ministry at SaveOne since 2000. The couple planted a church in 2007, so Sheila has been a pastor’s wife for 10 years. Sheila and Jack have two sons, ages 27 & 29. "Neither are married, but I am looking for wives for them so I will be one step closer to having grandchildren," quips Sheila. When asked what shaped her ministry philosophy, Sheila answered, "Pain. Plain and simple. I started SaveOne from a place of wanting to make sure others didn’t experience the same pain I did after an abortion. I wanted everyone to know the truth of what abortion really does to you." As far as the church, "what shaped my ministry philosophy was realizing, if I’m not healthy I could derail my husband’s ministry. As a pastor’s wife I am possibly the most vulnerable in the whole church. I have to take time for soul care, and the whole church remains healthier because of it." Sheila enjoys "hiking, drinking coffee, hiking, reading, hiking, hanging in my hammock in the woods, and hiking" when she comes across some free time. Sheila's greatest passion in ministry comes from seeing people be transformed from the inside out. "When a person walks in and doesn’t know Jesus, gives his/her heart to Him, lets themselves be discipled, and their life start to come together….I don’t know of a greater joy than that."