“I feel like I have nothing to give.”
I’ve scribbled these words in my journal in more than one season.
The first time it scared me. I had been struggling through an intense period of personal and team stress, loss, confusion, and ministry barrenness. I was constantly irritated by situations and people around me, whether it was my teammate, the neighbors, the chickens that constantly came to roost in our plants, or the lack of running water in our home. I daily tried and failed to concentrate on language study—or on anything really—and even happy, beautiful things no longer stirred my heart. I felt numb.
At that time I didn’t know the symptoms of burnout, or her close companion, depression.
I knew something was wrong, and thankfully I was able to get some help. Inventories and conversations with a counselor helped me understand that the things I had been struggling with didn’t mean I was crazy or a failure. But, I couldn’t keep following the path I had been on.
In their book Expectations and Burnout, Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss said, “Burnout is a long-term, continual sense of exhaustion which affects a person so severely that she is often unable to carry on normal, day-to-day activities. A person might start to dislike others, feel apathetic and withdraw from ministry.”
I told my teammate one day that burnout felt like my car had run out of gas. But because I needed to keep going, I was pushing the car around, trying desperately not to let anything fall through the cracks, yet it all felt like a heavy burden.
Burnout wasn’t the end of my story, though, and it doesn’t have to be for you either.
My journey to healing was long and winding, with bumps and twists and no easy answers. But you know what? It was worth it.
This is what I want you to hear, sister. Healing is worth it, you are worth it. Make changes and pursue hope. People might not understand, and sometimes you might not even understand all that is happening.
When you don’t have the strength to fight for joy and healing, find someone who can fight for you and with you. Help people to recognize where you are and what you need.
It might mean getting away from your current situation for awhile, getting counseling or resting well. It might mean a more permanent change to find a healthier situation for you and your family. These are brave and hard decisions.
For me, it meant a move to a new city with my teammate so we could have the support of other expats. It meant making changes in our budget to buy food that nourished our bodies and addressed areas of depletion. New rhythms needed to be created so that Sabbath was protected. We took a fresh and honest look at ministry boundaries, what was working and what wasn’t, and what fit with who God had created us to be.
One of the biggest changes was learning to give myself grace. I had a pretty strong mental picture of what the ideal overseas worker should look like, and felt I needed to fulfill that. I sensed the weight of ministry goals and organization expectations. When those expectations crashed and crumbled, I found myself stuck under the rubble. Getting honest about expectations—my own and my perception of others’—was an important step in finding freedom and healing.
If you are wondering if there’s hope after burnout, let me tell you, there is. Healing is possible. If you need someone to walk with you, reach out. Connect with me, connect with your leadership or a friend back home. There are valuable resources for Kingdom workers as well, like GRC. You are not alone.
What are some healthy rhythms you’ve put in place in your life and ministry?
Read these previous posts with words of hope for those dealing with burnout: