Setting the Stage
After quitting my full time job, I went to Florida for a few weeks. I visited with my Grandma (mom’s mom) and Papa (dad’s stepdad), spent some time at the beach and just hanging out with them. I needed to get away, process a lot, and rest. It was great! I felt refreshed and alive again! I let go of some bitterness, enjoyed some solo time with the Lord on the beach, felt relaxed…
So as soon as I made it back home, I jumped into a mini-mester of school and a new job. Part time this time, psh, I’d learned my lesson – I wasn’t going to burn myself out again! ‘I’ve got this… this season is gonna be GREAT‘ I thought.
Turns out, I’m not sure what “taking things slow” looks or feels like… because in no time, I was piecing together 3-5 part time jobs and working over 40 hours again, driving all over the place between three main weekly roles, accepting more hours than I was initially hired for with the new job, over-committing by working random days at my old job site, pet sitting, all on top of an 8-week condensed Statistics class going straight into holiday season.
Those three part time jobs were working directly with people with special needs. I love people with disabilities – they are genuinely some of my favorite people and I learn so much from hanging out with them. Yet I’m learning more and more each day that I also like to hinge my worth on my “altruistic nature” and puff myself up with the thought that ‘I’m helping everybody with my super-human-compassion-capacity.’ *eye roll*
I’d been hired as a job coach for two deaf clients, so I was trying to re-learn sign language on top of trying to understand a whole new profession. I was also still working as a CNA for two very different pediatric clients (both in age and diagnoses) through two different companies 3-4 times a week. I was deep in that direct-care compassion zone. Not to mention going back to work a couple of times in the chaos of the transition season at my old job, picking up on all the stress and anxiety from my friends and old colleagues there (had an anxiety attack later one of those nights…)
I started all this mid-October, and made it through Thanksgiving “just fine”. Dread had been slowly setting in as I hit November though. I wasn’t sleeping well, wasn’t exercising again, wasn’t really seeing friends or confiding in anyone face-to-face about the real stuff – I was just “doing” it and pretending it was all fine. Each morning as I woke up to repeat the process, I’d more often than not just want to stay in bed. At times, I’d feel overcome with despair that begin sobbing during my initial waking moments. Hmm, that was new…
‘I’m just transitioning… it’ll be fine,’ I thought/rationalized. Then I’d buy a light therapy lamp on Amazon for seasonal affect issues thinking it’d make it all better again…
Yeah…… it wasn’t fine…
I kept at this rate until one day in December I hit my wall. I finished my class, but one day I just I couldn’t go into work anymore. I called my supervisor and quit on the spot, an hour before I was supposed to work and meet my client at their job site, with no one else in the department who knew sign language to cover for me… I called my other job that same day and didn’t go in that afternoon either. Never in my life had I done anything so irresponsible or unreliable, I literally put them in a bind because I’d hit my own personal wall. They hadn’t even seen it coming and I totally blindsided them. The guilt and shame of disappointing people I respected overcame my mind later in the day – I kept spiraling inside, despite my sister’s best efforts (she’s the real trooper in all this) to distract or console me in person or my parents and brother over the phone.
Two days later, I email my supervisor of the job I quit, apologizing for how I’d handled it and explaining some of the situation which I’d figured out a bit from my two days of sitting with it. I had lasted at that job for 8 weeks. He accepted my apology, and in his amazing and compassionate character, offered to allow me to work a notice. Though hesitant, I accepted because it was the right thing to do. And because of the Christmas season and time off I’d had approved for a trip prior to quitting, I ended up working around 3 weeks notice since the shifts were sporadic. I ceased my hours on January 2… yet I still tried to hold out hope that I could stay working there because I have issues with letting go… the organization agreed to have me for part time or on-call work, I just needed to have a clear plan and let them know my schedule before two pay periods were up… I only contacted them two weeks ago, so I let 6 weeks pass before deciding.
What burnout is teaching me…
I didn’t want to accept or admit burnout. But I was forced to. Burnout and compassion fatigue – December was when I fully recognized it, admitted it, and called it what it was. My prior full time role had run me ragged and used me up, but I hadn’t truly recovered. A month or two away without acknowledging burnout wasn’t enough. I carried that exhaustion into my next season. Burnout is a state of mental, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual exhaustion – it affects the whole person… and boy, has it affected me…
Maybe I’m wrong here, but I feel like God is using burnout to teach me a lot about myself and ultimately Himself. Here are some things I’m gaining deeper understanding of as I go through this:
- I am human and I have needs
- What is “self-care”?
- Personal areas of pride/idolatry
- Patience, grace, time, and space
- Healing is messy, but God is good
Let’s go over each of those, shall we? Welcome to the mess of my heart…
I am human and I have needs
This may seem very basic and obvious, but it’s a fundamental issue that I war with acknowledging a lot. So many people have told me that I have a huge heart and care a lot for people, putting them above myself. It’s encouraging most of the time to hear that because that is how I want to live my life, caring for people more than anything and loving unconditionally. But other times, when I’m just functioning through my own sinful desires and flesh, all those comments do is feed my ego. Ugh! Don’t get me wrong, I do love and care about people – but a lot of times that is the badge I wear that becomes my thorn, it takes my focus off of Jesus who redeemed and gave me a sensitive heart, and makes it about ME and my heart as if it’s something I possess outside of Himself. I make myself out to be the “savior” then, forgetting that I’m human. ‘Attention – People of earth! I am superwoman from an alien planet out to rescue everyone I encounter from themselves and every evildoer!‘ My behaviors, actions, and compulsions then result from this notion.
When I forget I’m human, I forget that I am screwed up, gross, sinful, and have profound limitations. In that arrogance, I forget that I also need a Savior. I forget I truly have needs – need for food, air, water, shelter, rest, safety and security, identity/esteem, love and belonging, connection, wholeness, etc. I used to run myself ragged some days at my old job trying to fix all the issues, doing everything I possibly could to try to make things better for the people around me in that horribly toxic environment… that I would come all the way home after a full day (sometimes days could even be 8a-9p the last year I was there) and realize that I hadn’t even peed for the entire day!! I would just WILL myself to forget my basic needs or ignore them – self-sacrifice for “the greater good of others.” And that’s probably TMI, but it likely gives you a good indication of just how extreme of a problem this can be for me.
Burnout is reminding me that I can’t meet everyone’s needs, because I’m definitely just a human and NOT the Savior/Messiah. Jesus was human and had to face the reality of what needs humans have. So do I really think I can become so self-sacrificing and reach a place where I don’t have any needs as a human? No, but I act like it sometimes, as if…
Burnout is reminding me about those specific needs and limitations. It’s reminding me that God not only wants to meet my needs but that He is able to meet ALL of them, even the ones I don’t know about. And through His abundance and filling up of my heart and spirit, this overflow from Him can genuinely pour out to others when I’m His open vessel – it’s not out of my own strength, striving, or self-sacrificing emptiness.
Side note, anyone reading this who knows me for real is likely laughing at this “revelation”, because according to the enneagram, I’m a 2w1… and I’m also probably the neediest person on the planet! Just give me all the hugs and hold me for about a decade straight… I’ll be fine.
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:19
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33
What is “self-care”?
What a concept! It ties in with the point above, obviously, but on a practical level.
Did you guys know that it’s okay to say “no”? Boundaries and saying “no” to people, work, or things is self care! I guess it’s the most fundamental step to protecting oneself and prioritizing self-care to avoid burnout… but I am NOT good at saying “no” when it comes to either being with people or helping people. It goes hand-in-hand with having a hard time recognizing my own needs and humanness. It’s to the point sometimes of being sad though… I’m sure people who care about me feel like they sometimes have to protect me from myself. I’ve gotten reminders before that ‘you can say no’. “Bless her heart!” Yet even sometimes if someone reassures me that they won’t be offended or hurt by me saying that word or rejecting them, I don’t even believe them. I worry I’ve totally let someone down or I’ll lose their love, friendship, or affection because of it. Talk about bondage and unhealthy living, ya’ll! That boils down to control and trust issues too. So who am I trusting in for my value? Hmm, a later point…
Back to self-care though. Since it has the word “self” in it, the very core of my being automatically want to reject it… selfISH, NOOOO!
Maybe because I was so raw and facing the reality of burnout today, but I decided to literally google “what does the Bible say about burnout” and read something on the gotquestions.org website that blew my mind:
“Self-care implies not only caring for one’s body as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) by getting proper exercise, sleep, and nutrition; it also means taking time to laugh, to engage in hobbies, to be with friends, to be alone, to go for a hike, to soak in a bath, to read a book, to journal, in essence to actually enjoy those things that God has made to be life-giving to you.”
I’d really been trying to explore this concept of “self-care” since the start of the new year when I stopped working so much, but I don’t think I could comprehend the true and whole value of it until I read this today. Maybe I somehow kept feeling like it was a psychological concept outside of God’s design? It’s rare that I think of life as being something enjoyable or that doing “life-giving” things is something God wants for me. Perhaps this lack of understanding comes from a survival mentality, but if I’m being honest, enjoying life and doing enjoyable things just doesn’t often seem realistic or practical in my world.
I started making a list in January and trying to identify things that I felt were “self-care” for me. So burnout, along with this article and the Lord’s gentle healing, is showing me that it should be a priority. It isn’t selfish but is absolutely necessary.
Personal areas of pride/idolatry
This one really hit me on many different levels this morning. I had over-committed again to a work thing and then when it came down to just thinking of the reality of the “work” I was supposed to face today, I was met with profound anxiety which nearly brought on a panic attack had I not reached out to my family. My breath was shallow, I felt like I was outside of my body, yet I was sobbing and unable to control myself – but I was physically alone. I realized much deeper this morning how much I wrap up my identity in working/helping other people. I don’t feel loved unless I’m trying to earn it by self-sacrifice and over-helping someone – striving for or seeking validation from others. I pride myself on the amount of burdens I can carry for people (well, more like THINK I’m carrying). My flesh just loves being the martyr. My idols are productivity, works/responsibility, self-reliance, and “recognizing/fulfilling” the needs of others. Boil it down – I don’t trust God, I worship myself and the things that I do. Cue the massive need for repentance… good Lord and Holy Spirit, humble me…
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:1-3
Patience, grace, time, and space
So this is another great area where God is using burnout to teach me. I’m more often the Martha of the sister pair from the story in Luke 10. I am the type of person who tends to be fairly patient with others, but am a harsh critic of myself. ‘I can’t be knocked down for too long… the world needs me!’ As I’ve now acknowledged above, productivity is one of my many idols. Martha was all bent out of shape and distracted doing her tasks/work and was kind of judging her sister who was just resting at the Lord’s feet.
Burnout is forcing me to rest… but I want to truly know rest. I want this rest to penetrate every cell of my body, so that I can just sit at the Lord’s feet again and listen to Him without worrying or being distracted by the preparations that have to be made… without feeling the compulsion to help others all the time or fix something.
Burnout is teaching me to slow down, have patience with myself, accept God’s grace that its going to take time and I won’t be healed right away, but still trust that He’s holding the space for me to go through this process and healing journey. He’s given me some incredible people in my life lately who help remind me of His grace too… it helps.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:38-42
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. – Hebrews 4:9-11
Healing is messy, but God is good
My entire day today was shot from about 8am, when I almost had a panic attack due to over-committing in a season when burnout recovery should have taken priority. I was supposed to work on so many things and get stuff done today, but here it is late into the evening and all I’ve managed to show for today was writing this… I need to be okay with that.
Healing is a messy process. Depending on the nature of the wound and where it is, it can sometimes get infected, have to be drained, need cleaning up again, require surgery, reset bones, etc. The mind and the heart are just like the rest of the body though, they definitely take time to heal and can be just as messy, if not more so. I ran from the Lord for over 3 years, self-reliance was my god in that time, so of course I am burnt out. But God is good and He is the best healer, time to trust Him again.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’ – Matthew 13:15
Thanks for reading.