Have you ever wondered if you were on the brink, or in the middle, 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 lying in the hospital.
She was stopped. She had an excuse to stop.
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 hers.
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 into 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 was scared, he was scared, I was wondering if I was really having a heart attack at 48 years old! I went through a battery of tests, and as I was under one of the machines I heard God clearly speak 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 wandering 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 tried to blame it on 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 had never even been to Montana at this point. 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.
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 jet lag. 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 jet lag. 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 cross hairs 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!
Today's entry is Part One 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."