Burnout is an important topic to me because it is the water in which I swim with many people I meet. Burnout (or blow out) is incredibly common among "professional" ministers whether they be priests, pastors, missionaries, worship leaders or Sunday school teachers. The statistics are not encouraging. Though a few years old now, here is a report from the Francis Schaefer Institute:
Of the one thousand fifty (1,050 or 100%) pastors we surveyed, every one of them had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left the ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church, or from a moral failure.
Nine hundred forty-eight (948 or 90%) of pastors stated they are frequently fatigued, and worn out on a weekly and even daily basis (did not say burned out). (original post here)
My husband Stephen often says, in part, this is because pastors are paid to be good, or at the least to not be bad. He writes: " The problem is that pastors see their own heart and know that they can only allow their congregation and community to see a false self that was created out of a need to survive. The trouble is that eventually that lie consumes and destroys them." Systemically, there are not a lot of safe places for someone who is supposed to be "good" or "loving" or "on" all the time to share where they feel inauthentic, limited, struggling, weary or overwhelmed.
Parker Palmer, in describing living authentic to who you have been created to be, shares this definition of burnout:
"One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout. Though usually regarded as a condition of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess - the ultimate in giving too little! Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have: it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place" 49.
Clearly, this invites me - and perhaps you too - to consider: In what ways are you violating your own nature in the name of nobility? In what ways are you trying to give that which makes you feel inauthentic to who you are? Palmer writes:
If I try to be or do something noble that has nothing to do with who I am, I may look good to others and myself for a while. But the fact that I'm exceeding my limits will have consequences. I will distort myself, the other and our relationship..." 47.
So what's the remedy?
First, pay attention. When you say yes when you want to say no - you're violating your own nature. And, vice versa. For now - just start there in being attentive to the things that feel "natural" to you and those that feel unnatural.
Second, what things restore you and fill you? Are these things on your calendar? Plan to include them so that you can fill yourself up before emptying it out.
Third, pray. Ask God, like the psalmist, to give you an undivided heart.
Living in sync with who God made you to be is the greatest gift you can give the world during this season of Christmas. In the words of Oscar Wilde, "Be yourself, everyone else is taken."