Recovering from Burnout
I have had many varied experiences in my life but burnout has probably been the worst experience of my life, even more difficult to cope with than the death of my parents or the challenges of parenting. I have been in pastoral leadership for 25 years and most of that time I have found ministry to be very encouraging and immensely satisfying. But in the middle of last year I woke up one morning with a strong resentment towards the church and over time it grew into a full-scale anger and bitterness. In my mind I knew I was very stressed with the various challenges I was facing leading a church, serving the needs of the residents struggling with the trauma the earthquakes brought, providing support to my family, and trying to keep myself sane. Yet I did not realise how stressed I was until I did a medical check to find out why I was constantly tired. The doctor gave me a clean bill of health but when I did a psychological assessment, the results pointed to the fact that I was in serious burnout. So I resigned from ministry in October last year to give myself the space to rest and recover from the burnout.
What did burnout cause me to do?
- It caused me to question everything – God, my abilities, society, the Bible, church, everything.
- It made me feel far from God even though I continued doing my regular spiritual disciplines.
- It made me become more cynical about everything.
- It hardened my heart to the needs of the people around me.
- It caused me to lose my joy and laughter.
- It caused me to pull away from people
- It caused me to feel like a total failure.
As I look back over the last 12 months, I could see myself going in a downward spiral. I never expected that I would suffer from burnout. I am an activist, someone who could carry out a number of projects in one go. I have often been the one to make things happen. Now I realise that I was wrong. And I think I am not alone. There are other pastors and leaders who think that they could never suffer from a burnout. The truth is that being a pastor is one of the most stressful roles a person can have.
What have I realised from this?
- God is the only means of restoration. Even though I felt far from God, God was at work bringing his healing to my inner being.
- Seek help. You don’t have to go through this alone. Sometimes churches and leaders do not understand burnout and they end up making a pastor feel responsible for the place they are in. I found that I needed to meet with some of my good friends who just sat and listened. Sharing with the right people helps with the healing.
- Let go. This is the hardest part because part of burnout is feeling that you have failed. But at the end of the day I have to rest in the fact that God is the one in control, not me.
Now, I can look back and thank God for seeing me through this season of disorientation and reorienting my life so that I can enter into a new phase of service in God’s Kingdom.