From Part 1:
What does Scripture say?
Having understood what Stress and Burnout are and how to recognize them the fourth thing I did was turn to Scripture. I turned to two particular Biblical stories to learn from two Biblical characters, Elijah and Peter.
I looked particularly at 1 Kings 17:1 - 19:21, Matthew 26: 69-75 and John 21.
Elijah, means ‘Yahweh is God’, ‘El’ from Elohim and ‘Yah’ from Yahovah, both names for God. Elihah had experienced demands on every level. His calling had meant that he had been led to confront the weak king of Israel (1 Kings 17:1), who had married a foreigner who was a manipulative woman, Jezebel, who had brought her Baal worship in as the national religion. When there was no repentance from the King, the long drought that Elijah predicted began. During this time Elijah knew God cared for him and he was fed by ravens. Elijah also saw how God healed a sick boy and he knew he could trust God completely. He then went on to challenge the prophets of Baal where on Mount Carmel they would have sacrifices, but their respective gods were to supply the fire! The Baal prophets wailed all day with Elijah goading them into call out louder lest their god was a sleep. Then Elijah has his turn and he has twelve barrels of water poured onto the altar, but his God sent the fire consumed all of it! He now has all the prophets of Baal killed. This certainly did not make him popular with certain people. Opposition is the lot of prophets, it seems!
Now that the land is rid of Baal, it is time to pray for rain. He puts his face between his knees, expending superhuman energy, in prayer. At long last a cloud appears, and the rain falls, the drought is ended and the prayer answered. Now Ahab is on his way to tell Jezebel the news, and Elijah outruns the chariot with superhuman strength! Jezebel is outraged, and threatens Elijah’s life. After all this success and meaningful ministry, and inevitable tiredness, he gets defensive! He runs away to hide in the wilderness, lying there he asks God to take his life!
Turning to the Apostle Peter, the ‘Rock’ as Jesus called him, we see that he had been through three intense years of learning and of being discipled where his whole life had changed. Then he faced the trauma of possible death threats on his own life, of seeing Jesus betrayed and then his denial of his Lord. This was followed by the trauma of the end of a dream at the cross of something that had grabbed his heart and career very deeply. Hope was lost. He had to face the reality that he had left down the one, Jesus, who had really believed in him and had trusted him. He had failed Jesus in a big way. In fact he had let the whole team down and there was a significant loss of meaning to life as it was.
THE COMPONENTS WHICH CONTRIBUTE TO BURNOUT:
- PHYSICAL EXHAUSTION: When we look at what Elijah had been through on 1Kings 18 we should not be surprised! He was working for God, doing all the things God called him to do, for the righteous causes, and giving all. He had depleted his own resources, and perhaps had not relied enough on God's resources. We can only imagine what three years of vigorous work and then the trauma of the week before Jesus’s death did to Peter.
When we see what trauma does to any person’s body, we note the dissipation of energy, disorientation and inevitable sleeplessness that comes. Sleep deprivation is noted to be the dominant cause of car accidents. If we feel some form of burnout, we make two fundamental and opposite errors: One: We pull out of everything, and avoid all responsibility, and sit and do nothing. Two: We try harder! To over commit and burnout is bad. To withdraw and stagnate is just as bad. God calls us to a balanced lifestyle.When I feel I am not coping I tend to work harder and not smarter and this leads to a lack of sleep. This compounds the problem.
- NAÏVETY: Elijah had a great victory, but then in 1Kings 19:3 we find he fears for his life. He thought a ‘once for all’ effort was enough, and that the one war would defeat all evil. Not so. Sound familiar? One little set back and we are ready to give up the fight, when we are actually winning! I have learned over many years that we can never rely on yesterday's victories to fight today's battles. We can learn from the past, but each battle is a new one.
At times I have been naïve in my work for God and there are subtle shifts:
- When I have a good idea, we think it is God's idea, and I do not wait for God’s clarity;
- When I am directed by God I find myself ahead of him, and enthusiasm seems more important than God;
- When I confuse my worth for performance and think God only loves me when I perform well.
- PERFECTIONISM: In 1Kings 19:4 Elijah says: "I am not better than my fathers", meaning that he wanted to be better than others! This brings into question the matter of doing things well and doing things with excellence. Whilst we believe that doing things with excellence honours God and inspires people, it must not be so that it destroys the work of God’s grace in us, and become a god for us. Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount that we are to be mature, or as some translations put it ‘perfect’, not perfectionists! God never says that we have to be better than others, but simply doing what God wants us to do, and doing that to the best of our ability!
One definition of a perfectionist is one who takes pains to do things and gives those pains to others! To illustrate how God deals with me in my perfectionism I tell this story. I wanted the Order of Service one Sunday morning to be perfect, and worked really hard to get it already. The final print was ready to go, and some admin staff then got onto the copying machine and somehow all the pages got mixed up! All 200 leaflets were copied wrong! My comment to my wife, Leigh, was: "I have had to crucify my perfectionism again."
- BECOMING ISOLATED: In 1Kings 19:4 Elijah says: "Take my life...” The danger for me is that perfectionism isolates people from others, and they work on their own. We say that in order for a job to be done well; we have to do it ourselves. Have you heard this coming from your mouth? To my horror, I have! Then Elijah wonders why people do not help him, and he is alone against the enemies. The loner was left to alone to make the solo flight into the bottomless pit of self-condemnation.
Peter finds himself isolated when confronted as to the nature of his relationship with Jesus and he flounders and fails. When we try to do things on our own for too long we get lost in our own business and lose the plot.
- FEELING THE FUTILITY OF THE FUTURE: Elijah in 1Kings 19:4 says further: "I have had enough..." He saw more work, and more work, and that his work was not done. He thought: Why try anymore? I have given my best shot, and that was not enough. He forgot to trust in the God who is sovereign, and not limited to his humanness. He gave up.
Have you felt this at a time? What is the remedy? I will look further into this in the next part.