Tuesday, December 7, 2010

busyness, burnout and the grace of God (11a) burnout

I've told you about my 3 years of increasing busyness, as I took on every ministry opportunity I could. Today and tomorrow, I'd like to share with you what happened next.

Both roads - stress and burnout - lead ultimately to depression. The depression that comes from stress is due to the exhaustion of the adrenal system. On the other hand, the depression that comes from burnout is the loss of your vision, of your ideals.

8th July 2009. I'm leading a seminar at a women's conference. My friends advised me not to take this on after a crazily busy term, but I did it anyway. At the end of the conference I'm offered a fantastic ministry opportunity. I write in my journal, "It's the dream come true, the recognition I seek, the bigger stage. It's terrifying and exhilarating." I say 'yes', because how can I say 'no'?

9th July 2009. At 5.30 pm the day after the conference, the bottom drops out of my world. A 24 hour adrenalin high gives way to a deep low. This is normal. What isn't normal is the 2 months of despondency that follow. Every step - every smile - feels weighted. I write, "I'm longing for rest. I don't seem to be able to stop and get off this crazy ride."

Early August 2009. Instead of feeling excited about the fulfilment of my ministry ambitions, all I feel is dread. In my journal, I pray, "Thank you for the emptiness ... Thank you for reminding me that the idol I've set my heart on and schemed and worked so hard for is hollow and empty and can't deliver on its promises. ... You've stuffed me full and said, 'See!'"

Late August 2009. I go to a seminar on burnout, and the symptoms sound all too familiar: I'm drained, unenthused and distant from relationships. The solution, apparently, is to pull out of things and take some time to rest; so that's what I do. I cancel several ministry engagements - including the ministry opportunity I was so excited about - at some cost to my pride, and face a term with less things in it.

September 2009. It's odd how empty I feel. Relieved, yes, but empty. "Weariness. The blank nothingness that we call 'feeling flat'. Exhaustion. Disengagement." Without my busy plans for ministry, I'm living without a safety net. I've lost my dreams, my confidence, my sense of worth. Drained of enthusiasm, I'm unfamiliar to myself. If depression is a normal reaction to loss, then I'm living it.

October 2009. Earlier this year, I read the story of a middle-aged man who found that a red Ferrari didn't bring the happiness he longed for. Well, duh! But it lead to my own "duh!" moment: isn't ministry achievement just an idol painted in socially acceptable colours? In some ways, it's worse, because I'm taking something meant for God's glory and twisting it so it's about me.

November 2009. It's a busy month (I'm writing for Equip book club and Christmas is approaching) and, in the busyness, I manage to distance myself from the way I'm feeling - for a while.

Tomorrow: what happened next.

images are by LunaDiRimmel and -JosephB- from flickr


Rachach said...

Jean, I'm enjoying reading your reflections on your 'burnout'. I haven't suffered as you have but I too struggle with making ministry an idol. Thank you for being honest and open about this 'acceptable sin'.
Love Rachel

Sarah said...

Amen to what Rachach said.

Jean said...

Thanks, Rachel and Sarah!