Living in Part, Longing to Live in Whole {Book Club}

After my Bible reading, right now I’m feeding my soul with Embracing the Body: Finding God in Our Flesh and Bone by Tara Owens. It’s challenging me to think about bodies and the way we think and talk and treat them.

What I read this morning ties right into our discussion of burnout from Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission (by Robynn Bliss and Sue Eenigenburg)  and this week’s theme of Soul Care.

“The church insists through silence [on talking about bodies] that we focus on the soul instead of the body, as if the two could be fully separated. In the church, we insist that the body is somehow separate, not something to be brought into the life of the community. In doing so we watch clergy and those in ministry run ragged with fatigue, living unhealthy lifestyles that lead to the slew of moral and ethical failures that grab headlines today. Whether it’s the body without soul (hospital) or soul with body (modern church), we’re living in part, not in full, at the depths of us, we know it.”

Bold and italics mine. Doesn’t the idea of hospitals and churches in regards to bodies and souls give you pause.

Even if you need to stop here and meditate and read no further, it’s okay. Or as Sue said in this week’s reading, maybe you need to take a nap and that may be the most important way to tend to your body and soul today. I appreciate the holistic focus Sue and Robynn bring to the discussion on burn out and symptoms of it.

The quotation at the beginning of chapter 10 is powerful, isn’t it? I have come to picture burnout as a donkey pulling a load that’s too heavy and tipped it up. Her front legs churning and churching in the air, but getting nowhere. Are you like the donkey? Part of the reason we’re reading this book and spent so much of the Retreat on expectations is because we know we’re a group that’s wired to just keep churning our legs.

Robynn’s illustration of the staircase is another one that really helped me visualize the potential pathway to burnout. When I’d talk to those preparing for the field about the ideas in this section, I made a powerpoint presentation and in part, this is how I saw Robynn’s examples play out:

first phase


phase 2

Resulting in

phase 3

Where would you put yourself right now on the staircase? Is there a smile on your face? Or a look of resignation? Or a smile?

When the authors share the four options (work harder, give up, alter expectations, and alter reality), I wonder how many of us still hear that the “right” answer is to “work harder.” I hope we are more aware that doesn’t need to be our default. Instead, we can look at our expectations and our reality and see where we can (and should could) make changes.

I found it interesting that the rate of burnout isn’t influenced by marital status, number of kids, or location (open vs. creative access). Did that surprise you too?

These are two rich chapters. I have more to say, but I’d like to see where our discussion takes us in the comments. What stood out to you? What would you like to add to or question about these chapters? How might prevention of burnout look like soul care?

See you in the comments, friends!


P.S. Next week we have ask an author as Sue and Robynn will be here; get your questions ready! And then in two weeks we’ll have a wrap up week since so much has been going on, we need time to process.

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  1. Elizabeth April 27, 2015

    My husband just spoke to a long term M here in PP. Her teens are graduated/graduating, and he asked her how they’ve been able to stay and thrive and all that. Her basic answer? “It was a continual lowering of the expectations.” Just love that. When a long-termer encourages alteration in expectations, I think we need to listen very closely. This remark was made especially in regard to our children’s roles on the field — a VERY long topic I won’t get into now, but sometimes Ms think their witness depends on their children’s embrasure of and embedment in the culture. That’s something I disagree with and think puts too much pressure on a child.

    I LOVE your quote from Tara Owens: “Whether it’s the body without soul (hospital) or soul with body (modern church), we’re living in part, not in full, at the depths of us, we know it.” So insightful and true. We really do ourselves a disservice when we separate soul from body (which was part of Barbara Brown Taylor’s point in “An Altar in the World,” wasn’t it?).

    I also found it interesting that marital status, children, length of time on field, and field location were not related to rates of burnout. That surprised me, especially the length of time on field and field location. In training we were told the highest risk of burnout is in the first term (2-4 years) and am curious your thoughts on reconciling those two pieces of information??

    1. Amy Young April 28, 2015

      I smiled at what the long term M said … my mom in recent years has started to tell anyone who will listen the secret to life is lowering our standards/expectations. Maybe that is a gem that comes with age :).

      When I was returning to the field after a three year study leave I was coming in as a program director and meeting people who’d be working with/under me. We were chatting as a group and they were trying to see what my vision for something was (can’t remember now what) what popped out of my mouth has become one of my mantras:

      Aim high, settle for less.



    2. Amy Young April 28, 2015

      Over the years, I have honestly seem so much more damage done to TCK’s by high standards and elevating them to almost super human. I’m all for celebrating and fostering self-esteem. But I wonder if some of the massive crashes and walking away from the faith could have been avoided if we, their community and organizations, had just loved them. Loved being with them. Loved listening to them. Loved playing with them.

      I hope your message in this comment is one that catches on!

    3. Amy Young April 28, 2015

      Several things could be going on in regards to the (potential) conflict in what you heard and what Sue reported. Part of it may be that your org/setting does have empirical data as to what folks in your org have experienced. Part of it might be what they were sharing is more anecdotal — and while certainly there have been folks in the first 2-4 years, it’s not as statistically significant as they thinks. Or it could be that Sue happened to have a slightly odd sample 🙂

      I’d love to have another survey done, wouldn’t you :)!!

  2. Beth Everett April 28, 2015

    Another great two chapters. I have this book all marked up!
    Two (of many!) quotes stick out to me, one from each chapter, both on the same topic of the importance of self-knowledge.
    From Chapter 10
    “It could be that one of the most important skills a M brings with her is that of knowing herself, her strengths and her weaknesses, her gifts and abilities, her boundaries and personal limitations. The ability to say “no” is vital, as well as the discernment to choose to mainly work in areas of strength and gifting.
    From Chapter 11
    Self-knowledge is vital. Jaffe (1984) supports this when he writes, “Self-exploration and self-understanding are the cornerstones of self-renewal and are an antidote for burnout and excessive life stress”. Such knowledge and understanding helps M women recognize and work within their own limitations and boundaries. Some of us are low-energy people and others are high-energy. We cannot compare ourselves with each other. We look to God for guidance in how to invest the energy we do have, and we recognize that He has made us all differently.

    Such wise words. This has been key for me and my soul care.

    1. Amy Young April 28, 2015

      Beth, yes, yes, yes! Knowing ourselves and our wiring is so important. I’m hoping that some of what VA helps with is just this… that through the topics and posts and other ways of connecting, we are, all of us together, creating space to help know ourselves better. 🙂

  3. J April 30, 2015

    I have not been able to join in the book club discussion for a few weeks. I am in my home country on a break so you would think I would have more time, not less, but we have been busy visiting friends and family. My husband had to go back for work a couple of weeks ago so I don’t have him here to help with our 3 children and their usual routine is all up in the air.

    I have also highlighted many sections. In these chapters these stood out:

    “There is always more to do than there is time for. When we rest we will actually have the emotional and physical energy to do what must be done.”

    “It (prayer) is the most important ingredient of all in our relationship and work for the Lord…….It is by prayer that we know what our priorities should be ……….Prayer helps us to keep God’s perspective on things, thus enabling us to have patience and perseverance.”

    I know when I have too much to do and not enough time either my time for prayer or rest will often be sacrificed. Of course, this is totally the wrong approach and I need time with God and enough rest. I need to abide and rest in God and not try to rely on my own (sorely lacking) strength.

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