Last month I shared how I had to quit the job I loved. Ignoring the signs of burnout landed me in a medical leave of absence. You can read Part 1 here. How did I get to such a dark place without knowing what got me there? Over the course of a few months to years after this time, I began seeing themes.
Here are the three that were the most prominent:
I connected to things ABOUT God rather than God Himself.
I was engaged with a mission, but not necessarily the heart of God. There’s a difference in doing things FOR God and being WITH God or aware of the promise that He is WITH me. I relied on good resources more than Holy Spirit. The energy that was driving me was more out of internal (sometimes external) pressure rather than doing what God had asked me to do for that day. My time with God was substituted for preparation for Bible studies, devotions for staff team, talks I was giving rather than having space for no agenda in my time with God.
My identity was about “What can I do?” rather than “Who am I to God?”
I thought of myself as useful more than I thought of myself as a daughter. I became a role and not a person. I couldn’t separate my identity from my organization and I didn’t know how to have a normal conversation with people outside of my coworkers. I was relationally lazy because it was easier to spend time with people who “understood my world.” I also let others’ opinions of how I was doing affect how I was doing. Once I had a student confront me about exercising three times a week. She told me I could be using that hour to be on campus “saving souls.” She and another student had been tracking how I spent my free time and I cared way too much about what they thought.
I let work responsibilities override everything else, including family, friendships and soul care.
I had no hobbies that I used as an outlet on a daily or weekly basis. I had information overload. As Ruth Haley Barton states, “We have no clear boundaries on our technology.” There’s the constant pressure to be “on” and “available.” I mistook lack of boundaries as a passion for work. This was subtly deceptive. Family always came last. I missed being in friends and families weddings, my sister’s graduation, birthdays.
For me, depression was the engine going out. For too long, I had ignored the warning signs on the dashboard. The thing that was confusing was that there were still good days and moments, until there weren’t. The depression was terrifying because to me it came on suddenly. One of the misconceptions about depression is that you have deep feelings of sadness. My reality was that I felt nothing, nothing but ambiguous fear.
I will talk more next month about the long road through depression and burnout. If you are reading this, you might be thinking as I did, “But where is there a place to serve and give and make relational sacrifices?” “What about the truth of laying your life down?” “Can you remain in your job and recover?” “Does God have anything to say about these questions?” These are all important questions I will address.
Until then, I will leave you with some thoughts from Henri Nouwen, whom God used to bring comfort and solace. Nouwen said three of the biggest lies we can believe are:
- I am what I do
- I am what others say about me
- I am what I have
My struggle wasn’t unusual, but rather quite common. It did not feel common, but incredibly isolating. I look forward to sharing about how some of Henri’s words on community, communion and ministry helped bring healing, slowly, step by step, and how it’s not just about learning a lesson so it doesn’t happen again.