Burnout





Burnout is an intimidating word.  Most pastors think they hold an "Exempt Card" that makes them impervious to the experience of burnout.  Too often, the surprise and resulting shame from burnout leaves the resulting ashes buried deep within the psyche and soul of the victims.  The truth is that pastors who tend to be "people pleasers" are very vulnerable to the wiles of burnout and often tend to cover the symptoms with some type of self medication.

Perry Noble ( a well known pastor to thousands)  recently fell prey to the impact of burnout and has modeled renewed healing and openness about its cynical and destructive results.   He said in a recent interview with Carey Nieuwhof, "Leaders develop really unhealthy patterns and we call it leadership."

As a result of recent reading, listening to pastors/leaders and my own personal experience over forty years ago, I made the following compilation of some warning signs:
1.  I could perform for an event then felt so drained I could not function the rest of the day.
2.  Sleep did not refresh me for ministry.  I awakened tired or at least easily tired.
3.  I became humorless and no longer laughed freely.
4.  I had a low level of patience and a quick anger over minutiae.
5.  I had less energy and was less productive than previously.
6.  People frustrated me and dealing with their issues left me drained.
7.  My optimism turned to pessimism.

While this is not a scientific nor a complete list, I would suggest that if you see yourself in the mirror of these simple sentences that you begin to look for a spiritual companion to help you.  You are not alone in this journey.  The worst choice is to isolate yourself from others who could be a resource for you.

The fallen

It lay like a fallen giant on the forest floor.  An ancient tree simply fell to the ground on a quiet afternoon among the trees surrounding our cabin.  As it crashed to the ground, it fell across a young tree splitting it, bending branches to the ground.  As I looked on the damage, I realized that collateral damage involved not only the fallen giant but those trees who were growing up in its shadow.  Its falling was not a total shock for woodpeckers had spent time carving the tree in search for bugs and other tasty morsels hidden beneath its bark.  Weakened and scarred beyond what any tree could withstand, it fell.

Just today, a pastor shared his concern over the tragedy of a fallen colleague.  He was concerned about the others who had looked to this individual for leadership and asked, "Will they lose hope and give up?  Will they become another statistic?"  Community offers strength and connection yet it serves as a point of danger if we totally lean on a personality.  Warning signs begin to appear like the holes drilled by dizzy headed woodpeckers. I recall the words of a dear friend years ago who expressed his deep desire to "finish well."  Fallen trees remind me of my vulnerability and also provide determination to stand strong to the end.    

Hope Wins

The innocence on their faces belied the destructive wake. A home in ruins on the ground announced the tale of squirrels run amuck. Birds had worked hard and raised their family. The old birdhouse built by “pop pop” and eager granddaughter had been placed on the properly dedicated tree for observation from our kitchen window. Now, it lay unhinged and splintered beneath the tree. The violation was not just the upset of the bird family or even the destruction of the nest that reached to the roof. The emotional loss seemed to call out anger and an eagerness to restore the rustic peaceful home.

My eagerness for restoration emanated from in an inner place that watched destruction beyond my control to fix or repair in my world. I could actually help restore this family. As I walked away from the quick repair, I sensed the sorrow in my soul for a world not so easily restored. The words of last night’s reading of Niebuhr rang in my head, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.” At least I made a difference for one feathered family today.

Listening

The field seemed alive with movement. It was filled with a gaggle of geese gathering from their nests to prepare for a flight south. The nearby lake was crowded like a favorite beach on a sweltering summer day. Geese outnumbered citizens in the little village. Somehow an inner calling had gathered these migrants as they responded to an inner intuition that summer days would soon fade and be replaced by the brisk autumn breeze.


As I marvel at the rhythms of nature, I realize that there is an intuitive message within that often prepares me for the next movement in my life. However, I find that there are many distractions in my life that prevent hearing the message. The noise of my life activities somehow squelch that quiet inner voice and allows me to miss the opportunity to engage important holistic spiritual life. What practice would actually allow me to hear that inner urging? I spend my days meeting with spiritual leaders creating space to be attentive. Yet I find that I, like Paul warns, can become a “castaway” by ignoring the inner promptings whispering in my own soul. So, I sit here this morning listening attentively trying to tune into those messages of my soul.

Hospitality

We have wonderful neighbors whose hearts welcome unwanted animals. It is quite a menagerie next door that includes dogs, chickens, feinting goats, llamas, alpacas and an expected horse. They also welcome their neighbors who come to the fence to appreciate the animals and watch progress on the nearly completed pen for the incoming horse. We have cleared a pathway through the woods to the fence line and stocked the refrigerator with food that animals are likely to appreciate

Hospitality is a developed gift. We are fortunate to live next to a family that welcomes both animals and humans. In a day when the automatic doors on our garages act as a moat with drawbridge raised for privacy, it is rare to have such welcoming experiences with neighbors who take time for conversation over their fence. I grew up in a small town (less than fifty people) in the Bitterroot Mountains. It was common to greet strangers and even invite them in for a meal or a time of sharing stories. There always seemed to be time. In retrospect that may be why we were poor but when it came to friends, we had wealth never deposited in a bank.

I Dream of a Garden

It is empty. Nothing. Like many Pennsylvanians, I built a raised garden this spring. It involved a few hours or work after visiting our local Home Depot. Mountain soil is not always fertile. So, I even purchased some enriched soil to fill the small space by our circle drive. However, I did not purchase seedlings. I became distracted by the busyness of the season. So, the garden space has remained unplanted. Summer is ending and I see the farmer stands selling vegetables, friends offering to share their bounty but I have nothing but good intentions. The garden is empty.

Sometimes life seems to be one season of planning after another filled with a lot of empty spaces where the tasks so carefully planned were never completed. The result is an empty garden. While I have many excuses, the fact remains that I never took time to go to the local garden supply to purchase seedlings or to plant them. The result is zero. I can take some comfort in the fact that the neighborhood deer, the fat marmot or even the rascally squirrels did not feast on my hard work. But, neither did I or my neighbors. My garden space lies empty. Dreams fulfilled require action attached to planning.


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