“Midway this life we’re bound upon,
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
where the right road was wholly lost and gone.”
The Divine Comedy-Canto I- Dante
Dante’s words ring true to me when I remember my experience with burnout. At the time I was the Pastor at the same Baptist church for over twenty years. My wife and I have three sons who were all teens back then. I had several pressures at this time. The church had grown in numbers as had the Christian day school on campus. This led to a major building program to renovate and expand the small 200 year old building we called home.
It was decided to get a loan for the entire project, big bucks. The growth of the ministry was in some measure due to our embrace of the Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings that had started in the church. This brought in many wounded folks looking for healing and I found myself counseling for many hours a week. Our oldest son, we found was addicted to alcohol and drugs. I kept this as a private matter, I realize now it was a mistake, I should have opened up about it to the Body. My wife was devastated by this and her emotional state was a concern as well.
We had moved out of the parsonage on the promise from a member who was a builder that he would build us a new house. The housing market collapsed shortly there after and he went bankrupt and we ended up living in rented homes as the parsonage was rented out to accommodate our situation.
We had moved back into the parsonage that was across the parking lot from the church building. I was walking across the parking lot to the parsonage when the thought came as clear as day, “I can’t do this anymore.”
It was not a passing thought or the result of a bad day. It was a profound realization of an inward condition that was present and not going away. It was frightening. My livelihood, home, social contacts were all tied up in this place and position. I had been doing this since my late twenties, what else could I do? Initially I thought of moving to another church position. I then realized I had no idea of how to do that, later I knew I had neither the energy nor the will to pursue it.
As time went on I withdrew into myself. I would at times curl in a fetal position on my bed for a time. I wrote a lot of poetry back then and pursued writing and producing Christian plays with someone who shared this interest. I found myself avoiding the church and where I had been quick to fellowship after service now I would withdraw immediately after preaching to the house. I didn’t understand what was happening to me.
It was a bittersweet experience. I was getting in touch with a lot of stuff I had stuffed for years of people pleasing. I was coming to a place where I didn’t care anymore and it was very liberating. With this detachment I began to experience the Lord and myself in new ways. I began to pursue the answers to questions it’s not safe to ask in the ministry. And a fearlessness grew up inside of me through it all. It was a transforming experience.
Months later I asked the Lord, “What’s been happening to me?” He said it was burnout and I wrote about eight handwritten pages as to what that meant. The essence of which is: We have a finite amount of what I’ll call psychic energy. We give this out in our active relationships. In reciprocal relationships it comes back to us in equal or greater amounts. In nonreciprocal relationships it just goes out. When the outtake exceeds the intake we’re starting to burnout. At a certain point we’ll begin to realize it like the low gas light in a car. We can then run on an emergency supply for awhile but eventually you run out.
This happened about fourteen years ago. I found the grace of God in a new way. I have pastored a house church, developed and run a Teen Wilderness program for at risk kids. Worked for a radio station and I’ve been the pastor of the church here for over five years. I’m still happily married to my bride and all my sons are healthy and doing well. If this might encourage someone along the way it’s my joy and privilege and Glory to God for His grace.