A friend Howard Parrish sent me a very kind note in which he wrote from his own personal experience with ministry burn out, “As you may be experiencing now, I have experiences and still-painful memories of taking on more than my human self could handle, and believing that God would instantly transform me into whatever Superman was required to meet the challenge.” I did not realize that I had taken up a cape and assumed a Superwoman persona but in this season when my super powers seem to be failing me I realize that I have denied my own humanity. Wayne Cordeiro in the first line of his book “Leading on Empty” writes; “We do not forget we are Christians. We forget we are human, and that one oversight alone can debilitate the potential of our future.”
I think my current unhealthy state was brought on by the challenges of this past fall with my daughter’s illness, surgery, hospitalization and recovery, my only two staff members being out with their own personal battles on top of a move to a new facility, hiring 17 people, firing 3 people, and coordinating a merger and total restructure of Embrace. Then I cracked my ribs in January and I could no longer walk and much of my prayer life is linked to my walking. Through all this, I just kept pushing forward, running on nothing but adrenaline. I would sleep on a chair in the hospital, then come to work and spend all day training new team members, preparing for our move, supervising the operation of the furniture bank, then return to the hospital to be with my daughter. Cordeiro writes “Should you continue to run on adrenaline it will destroy your system. You will burn out on the inside sooner than you’re able to see on the outside. The fuel of adrenaline that keeps your engines running in the beginning will turn on you and destroy you in the end.”
I think as Christians we look at Paul’s words spoken to the Philippians in Phil 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and think that this means we can do anything we set our mind to. However if you read this passage in its context what Paul is saying is that he has been able to endure suffering because Christ strengthened him. The full passage reads “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” So often Christians pull this passage out of context and use it to fuel this superhuman understanding of what it is to be a Christian and I think us pastor types are the worst offenders.
While during this extreme season of stress, I know I pushed my body too hard and set expectations for myself that were unreasonable, I think there are a number of other contributing factors that added to my current state. The most significant being a loss of my sense of call. Since the merger in September, my sole focus has been on building the furniture bank and transitional employment components of the newly formed CARITAS Works. While both of these programs meet a significant need within the homeless services system, neither reflect the sense of call that lead me to start Embrace in the first place. My spirit is filled when I am operating out of my call and not out of a sense of obligation.
I know if I am going to get back to a place of balance, I have to rediscover my call and make changes that allow me to get back on the right track. Cordeiro writes “Sometimes we get so busy rowing the boat that we do not take time to stop and see where we are going…or what we are becoming.”
This is where I am going to focus my efforts in the coming weeks or however long it takes me to gain the clarity I need to move forward. In the past, it has helped for me to write about the insights that I am gaining when I am seeking to discern God’s leading. If you care to follow me on this journey, I will be sharing insights as I am able on this site.
Many of my friends have written and called to encourage me on this journey and the one thread that I have heard in all their words of encouragement is this; “God is preparing you for something. You have to go through this in order to move to the next level of what God has for you.” Cordeiro’s book echoes my friend’s insights. He writes “God’s ways are certainly not our ways, and all too often before the truth sets you free, it will make you miserable. We dare not conclude that what we are going through lacks the Devine touch simply because it entered our life without our permission. Faith is living in advance what we will only understand in reverse.”
Thank you all for your prayers and support. I do believe this season is just a part of the journey and that in the end the journey is the destination. One passage of scripture that has always comforted me when I cannot see where I am going is Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Thank you all for your continued prayers.