Avoiding Burnout, part 1

The following three blog posts come via Brad Hambrick, our counseling pastor here at the Summit Church. Brad presented this information to our staff and it was enormously helpful. To note, Brad has his own blog, which you should check out as well for a lot of helpful info.

This is written from the vantage point of a pastor, but it really could apply to anyone in a high pressure environment.

Stage One: Caring

Pastor Jeff truly cares, or at least he used to. He cared about his family-he spent time with his children and regularly took his wife out on dates. Pastor Jeff cared about people-the homeless, the orphans, and the lost. Pastor Jeff cared about his work-he was excited to see what God was doing through his church. Everyone liked Pastor Jeff and wanted to be like him.

Stage Two: Unfocused or Unrealistic Expectations

“Caring” is a fire that burns, and burning requires fuel. The problem was that the better Pastor Jeff did at anything, the more “great opportunities” came his way. Pastor Jeff cared, so he tried to honor every “open door” God brought into his life. Soon there were more care-fires than there was Pastor Jeff to burn, and he started to be consistently tired–physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Stage Three: Fatigue

Pastor Jeff began to find that he didn’t have “it” to give to his family, church, or friends. His talent and likeability covered things well enough that few people noticed, except his wife. Instead of taking this as a warning to slow down, Pastor Jeff felt guilty that he wasn’t able to give his best anymore. At first this guilt provided a great energy boost and got him “back in the game.” This happened several times over the course of a couple years. He thought it might be a mild bout of depression or fatigue, so he started taking some vitamin supplements and working out. That helped… for a while.

Stage Four: Motivation by Guilt or Shame

But the fatigue kept coming back. Pastor Jeff tried not to notice, but he could tell he was becoming more cynical. His once tender heart was growing callous. Pastor Jeff was a caring guy who was starting not to care. He would help when needs arose, but it felt like a burden. Now even the guilt he felt about not caring wasn’t enough to wake him up. A sense of duty was about all Pastor Jeff had left. His friends wanted him to be “Pastor Jeff” again, and he noticed that he had begun to resent them and avoid them. “They don’t understand me anymore,” he began to tell himself. For now, Pastor Jeff was going to take care of Pastor Jeff; everyone else would just take from Pastor Jeff.

Stage Five: Callousness or Cynicism

While Pastor Jeff was going through the motions of work and family, he was making sense of life in a whole new way. Since life was a black and white movie with a theme of duty, anything that introduced color with freedom and excitement was deemed “good.” Pastor Jeff was torn, knowing that he used to call these things “bad”-the attention from his secretary who seemed to genuinely care, the couple of drinks at night that took the edge off, the impulse purchases that proved his independence. Pastor Jeff’s wife and “old friends” (as he now thought of them) raised concerns. But this only reinforced his now firmly held cynicism that they were judgmental and didn’t care. He sank further into isolation.

Stage Six: Failure or Crisis

Predictably, Pastor Jeff’s work performance fell, he starting having an affair with his secretary, and the drinking grew beyond “a couple.” Everything started to come to light-his wife noticed some “questionable” e-mails with his secretary and started to piece together the truth. With the separation that followed, the affair became public knowledge. Pastor Jeff was fired, living in an apartment with his secretary, and only saw his kids for about an hour a week at McDonalds. He was shocked and sickened. When he permitted himself to ask, “What happened?” his emotions fluctuated from intense guilt to cold bitterness, then retreating back into numb callousness.

Stage Seven: Realization

How could he have gotten here? How could he have been as mean to his wife and friends as he was when his sin came to light? How could his conscience have missed that he was slipping into such dangerous patterns? While he was still a pastor, he had taught on the dangers of everything he had done. Why was he just now starting to care again? Now caring hurt so bad that he almost didn’t want to come out of his cynical stupor, and when Pastor Jeff talked to any of his “old friends” he found himself quickly getting defensive and retreating within his calloused conscience.

Burnout is never caused by a single area of life. One area of life can’t get out of order without overt neglect in other areas. No, burnout is a result of how we have managed our life as a whole.

Burnout is simply the result of living beyond our means with the time God has provided. It is common to say that someone is “living beyond their means” financially, meaning they owe more than they earn. Here we use the phrase to help us refer to time management.

The first step for those moving towards burnout is to rest in the fact that everything fits in a 168-hour week. If there are 200 hours worth of excellent things for you to accomplish in a week, at least 32 hours of your agenda is outside the will of God. If God wants it done, He will do it through someone else.

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