From Burn to Release

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” Matt. 11:28-30

Two themes ago I shared about my experience with burnout while living in Asia (you can check it out HERE). I’m a nurse, so please forgive me, but I’m going to use a strong visual to help describe what burnout looked like for me and what it took to heal. 

Ever heard of burn contractures? A burn-scar contracture is the tightening of skin after a second or third degree burn. When skin is burned, the surrounding skin begins to pull together into a tight scar, resulting in a contracture (imagine limbs bent out of shape and unable to move). It needs to be treated as soon as possible because the scar can result in the restriction of movement around the injured area. 

Restriction of movement. When I suffered from burnout I felt tight, paralyzed, almost trapped. Was I living freely and lightly? Was I treading on the heights like a deer? No. Like the results of untreated scars from a burn, I was living with all sorts of emotional and spiritual contractures that kept me from moving freely. 

When I lived in Asia, I once assisted a team of doctors doing burn-contracture release surgeries in a rural hospital. I’ll spare you the details, but I saw first hand what it takes to ‘open’ up the burn-scars in order for the patient to experience movement again; to be released. It involves cutting and excision of tissue, skin grafting, expanding tissue, stitching, splinting, and compression. After all this, there are still months of wound care and physical therapy. The goal: full release. There might still be some physical limitations and scarring, but the hope is that recovery IS possible, and it might also mean living life differently. (Let your spiritual applications kick in here!)

In 2015, when our family returned to the States for a Sabbatical in the foothills of Yosemite National Park, my hidden burns and taut scars ached for my attention. I remember our first week back, taking a quiet walk through the woods down to a little creek. As I sat at the edge of the creek, I reflected on my years of work overseas and I remembered the week I spent in that poorly lit operation room assisting with the burn-contracture release surgeries. Suddenly I was the patient! I envisioned myself on a gurney, and a thought came to me. “Are you ready? Are you ready to be released?”  

Scared out of my mind, knowing the hard work of repair and recovery that I had ahead of me, I said, YES Lord. 

Yes, Lord…

Even though I feel guilty for resting.

Even though I feel tired.

Even though I am grieving what I don’t want to lose.

Even though I know this may hurt.

Even though I am disoriented and have lost myself.

Even though I am scared you might do something new.

I’m ready.

My burnout was primarily self-inflicted– years of going hard and living on the edge in isolated places, and pouring myself out. But now I had a choice to stop. I decided to put myself under the care of The Great Physician and utilize all the resources available to me to help me regain my life. For me, this meant counseling, intentional Bible study and reading, meditating, faithfully exercising, and learning new rhythms of grace. It all felt a bit weird to be honest. As one of my friends said, I had been living in the negative integers for far too long, I didn’t even know what it was like to live at zero. 

Speaking of friends, I am so thankful that I had a loving and generous community to support me during my recovery. I also discovered Velvet Ashes– a community where I felt like people “got it.” A space where women all over the world shared honestly and freely, without judgment. I signed up for Velvet Ashes’ first ever retreat that year, and the theme was…get this:  Release, Learning to Live Light & Free.

Are you serious? Pretty crazy, when you consider the burn-contracture image.

Prior to that retreat, I wrote an email to the VA Team thanking them for their role in my recovery. Here is a portion of what I shared:

In the last few months I’ve had to come to terms with the deepest parts of me that I have ignored for so long. The simple truth is that I have let my passions and good intentions of serving the Lord turn into a stage of good works, ‘sacrifice’ and performance. I don’t know when it ‘all went wrong,’ but I have hope that I don’t have to keep living that way. This ‘seasoned’ M is finally learning what Grace really means, that He truly LOVES me- not because of what I’ve done or DO for Him, but because I’m simply His.  

I read that now, five years later, and think, “WOW, what a release!”  The space that was created for me to rest was a turning point in my life. It wasn’t easy to let God in; to let God release, graft, stitch up and splint my personal contractures. There were some dark days, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything. 

I am confident now that God’s timing was perfect. He brought us home before other factors would have forced us to leave. So, even though I didn’t want to leave ‘the work’ behind, especially because I couldn’t see the way ahead, I see it now.

And though I may be farther along, I have not arrived. I am prone to burn. I live with scars. I have questions and fears. But I know one thing, I am leaping and treading on new heights in ways I didn’t before; learning to live freely, unrestricted, and lightly. With confidence I can say: The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights. (Habukkuk 3:17-19)

Do you have a story of recovery? Even though?

Click on the image below to learn more about the 2020 Velvet Ashes Retreat!

3 Comments

  1. Grace L March 1, 2020

    Monica, thank you for this post. I have been wanting to respond for days and must do so before a new week starts! Mmm, yes, I have had a lot on my plate. I was in pre-burnout last fall and with the help of my husband and our member care couple, I was able to scale way back and rest while still staying here in the same country you used to be in. Then I got more rest as I recovered from a back injury in November. Fast forward to January and we have had a lot more rest because of the self quarantining we have had to do. We have never had 5 weeks to ourselves in the entirety of our 19 years of marriage!

    I have been able to recover quite a bit because of all this rest and have been enjoying sweet times with the Lord in my devotional time. Am I totally free from burnout coming back again. After reading your article, I know that I must stay close to the Lord and be vigilant about how much I take on.

    I found your analysis of recovering from burnout being similar to the releasing of burn scars. When I was 21 years old, my clothing caught on fire and I suffered 3rd degree burns on my arm and shoulder and back. I have gone through all the surgeries of skin grafting and then later further plastic surgery to release the places where the burn scars were restricting movement. It took a long time and a lot of exercising to get full (almost) back in my left arm. And the scars remain. Yes, I have been able to live with them and I have had both physical and emotional restrictions. At some point I came to appreciate the scars because they are what allowed me to live. If the skin is gone and there is only flesh, a person cannot live because of the infection. I have lived for more that 50 years since that accident and I am grateful for the scars and the protective skin that they form on my body.

    Can we learn to appreciate the scars of burnout and what it has done for us? I really appreciate the “warning” that being in pre-burnout was for me. I have a lot of excuses to rest up more and not overdue it. I have been getting rest and I have read some very inspiring and rewarding books that I never gave myself time to read before. I am more at peace. I am closer to the Lord and I know that He wants me to come away and be with Him and rest. And even if I get busy, I know He is still with Me and just wants me to lean into Him more and call on Him for help.

    I hope your post and the others on burnout will help many of us women serving overseas, or back in their passport country, to slow down and not try to do it all. The Lord can still use us if we are not “superwomen”! And I pray that many will find release from the burnout and the frenetic pace. Just had a thought to wonder about for those of us serving overseas. In the 19th and most of the 20th century, overseas workers were able to live among their people but did not have to carry on communications with people and media via smartphones and computers, etc. It is one more layer that can be a help to us or it can cause us to go into overload.

    Thanks for listening and for sharing, Monica. I do appreciate your posts.

    1. Monica F April 10, 2020

      Grace, thank you for sharing your story with me, it is so powerful to hear your personal experience with burns and the recovery that took place. I resonate with the fact that we learn from our scars as well, and that we do not have to be superwomen. Your story is inspirational, and I appreciate your insights.

  2. Emily March 9, 2020

    Wow, Monica, the picture of burnout as a burn scar that needs to be released really hit home. Burnout doesn’t just leave a little papercut boo-boo. It’s a very deep wound that takes a long time to recover fully from. But recovery IS possible. Thanks for this great post.

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