Archive for the ‘burnout’ Category

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A Nighttime Prayer

One of the things I have liked about attending different churches through the years is exploring each new hymnbook for songs I’ve never heard before. I’m currently attending a United Methodist church and the hymn repertoire is large and rich.

Here are some of the words from a new song I’ve discovered. Several nights a week I play it on the piano and sing it to my kids as a lullaby before they go to bed. The music is a beautiful, lilting Swedish folk tune.

Thy holy wings, O Savior, spread gently over me,
and let me rest securely through good and ill in thee.
O be my strength and portion,my rock and hiding place,
and let my every moment be lived with thy grace…

…And take into thy keeping thy children great and small,
and while we sweetly slumber, enfold us one and all.

I’m off to bed now, not having completed (nor even started to be honest) the work I needed to make a dent in tonight. I’m walking through a mixture of grief and burnout and joy and healing and sorrow. That rather intense combination seems to be messing with my nervous system, so in addition to being worn out, my legs are twitching occasionally. It’s not painful, but distracting and annoying. I’m praying for sweet slumber, enfolded in God’s love.

Tomorrow’s a new day to live every moment with his grace. Every moment. Not one exempt. Not one good moment occurs outside of his grace. Not any of my bad moments, not even the worst of the worst. That is part of what I believe and trust is true, in ways I can’t always clearly see or comprehend.

O be my strength and portion, my rock and hiding place…

(“Thy Holy Wings, O Savior,” by Caroline V. Sandell-Berg 1865; trans. by Gracia Grindal, 1983; p. 502, The United Methodist Hymnal)

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Down time

Thank you so much for all who have responded to my survey about church. I’m really thankful for all of your answers and the perspectives they give. Reading them, I feel like one of the blind men in the story of trying to comprehend an elephant without being able to see–each person’s perspective is a bit different and adds to the bigger picture. 

My blogging has been fairly slow for a while–once or twice a week, usually on the weekends. This week I had a bit of an emotional and physical crash and am battling to cope, so I’m slowing down even more for the moment while I catch myself back up, especially emotionally.

Grief and questions and work and financial uncertainty and being there for my kids and loss upon loss and sadness and recovering from burnout and questions and more questions sort of pile up periodically and whack me over the side of the head. I read once how many calories thinking burns up. It makes sense that thinking “too much” (as my friends like to say about me), then, is also using precious energy. Unfortunately, I can’t just turn my brain off and stop thinking. 

Usually, I can find rest in the middle of my brain going on and on, but when I’m worn down I’m not so good at it (the rest bit–maybe it takes some energy to be able to rest well.) Ironically, I made it through a few years of rather traumatic times and was graced with good rest for the duration, but, now that life itself has settled a bit, my sleep patterns are crazy and even when I’m sleeping, my brain seems to keep going chaotically. So for the past two weeks, I’m not even resting well when I’m sleeping.

The thing I am doing, then, is stopping trying to put words to my thoughts and feelings for a little while as that is an energy drain that I can control more easily than stopping the intensity of the thoughts and feelings. Maybe only a week, maybe longer. I don’t know. Blogging is an odd thing–when I’m able to find words for the stuff inside my head, it helps and gives me energy. But sometimes, that process is just too draining. 

I wanted to let you know I’ve not disappeared completely or stopped blogging. Aso, if you’ve written or write me an email and don’t get an answer from me for a while, it’s not because I’m ignoring you–I always have a response inside of me, but not always the energy to put it in a form that actually communicates back. Your emails and comments comfort and encourage me, even in the in between time when I’m not writing back.

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Life has certainly been a bit tumultuous over the past couple of weeks. Although there has not really been any resolution or solution to the specific struggles I’m facing, I think things have calmed down enough so that I can start to catch my breath again.

This weekend, I was playing the piano and singing (making a joyful noise, that is; someone once told me I sing like a piano player, so there you have it) this song by Tim Blomdahl:

It is good for me to draw near unto God;
Lord I put my trust in Thee,
that I may declare all Thy works, O my God,
Lord, I put my trust in Thee.
My flesh and my heart, they fail me,
but God is the strength of my life.
You are my portion both now and evermore,
there is none that I desire but Thee.

What struck me (as it has before when I’ve read Psalm 73, on which this song is based) is the contradiction I’d be accused of if I had said this on my own, instead of quoting Scripture. Without a doubt, I’d be asked: “How can your flesh and heart fail you, if God is the strength of your life?” I’ve heard the argument repeatedly, that if I keep trusting God, He’ll keep me strong. So, I should stop worrying about my failing strength and energy and just trust God. He’s going to carry you. He’s going to sustain you. He’ll keep you going. Your strength can’t fail, because God is your strength.

What I’ve experienced is that my flesh and heart do fail me. And I do not have a security of, “well, you’ll get this weak, but no weaker”. My spirit does grow weak. And it could get weaker. But, nothing about that negates that God is the strength of my life. This place of weakness of my body, weakness of my mind, weakness of my spirit, right here, in the middle of that broken and weak place, God is the strength of my life.

It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t even look logical. God’s strength doesn’t make me strong like, “Watch out, here I come, re-energized and unstoppable, like the Energizer Bunny. God’s gotten a hold of me and given me a dose of His strength and now, watch out, here I come, the new and improved, strong version of me.”

It’s more like, in my broken, crumbled, weak and very exhausted state, God is here. God is the strength of my life. It is good for me to be near Him. I am safe. I am okay. My life and circumstances may be crumbling. I may feel very unprotected and insecure compared to others who are thriving all around, with good jobs, a house they own, and the like. I have no idea what my future holds. Or how I’ll survive it financially, emotionally, practically. But, nothing and no one can destroy the reality that God remains the strength of my life.

Oh the paradox of life with God. I can be weak and stay weak, and yet know the strength of God in my life. I can be physically deformed and yet reflect the glory of God in radiant and beautiful ways. You can even kill my body, but you can’t destroy me.

When I step back and look at extreme paradoxes like this in the Kingdom of God, I am reminded again of how my own weakness and struggling to keep going isn’t the point. It’s not a pass or fail thing, like I have to get fixed and be thriving or else. The point is the joy and security of knowing that no matter how much harder things get, no matter how weak I am or how long I stay weak and tired, that God remains the strength of my heart!

That truly is a joy, a strength and a deep security that I have in the middle of all of this. My emotions flail all over the place (I could never be the poster child for a “stable Christian”! Some days my burdens seem so heavy and there are so many uncertainties, I don’t know what is the next step. I can be shaking all over–in anger, confusion and fear. BUT GOD is the strength of my heart.

I can’t explain theologically all the significance and innuendos of Psalm 73. But, what I do know is this: I have repeatedly been in situations where I have cried out with the words of Asaph (well, the words of Asaph in the not very literary, but still-touches-me-deeply New Living Translation in English….):

But as for me, I came so close to the edge of the cliff! My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. For I envied the proud…

Was it for nothing that I kept my heart pure and kept myself from doing wrong? All I get is trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain.

If I had really spoken this way, I would have been a traitor to your people. So I tried to understand…..(Been there, done that, tried the understanding route, more than once….)

Then one day I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I thought about the destiny of the wicked.

Then I realized how bitter I had become, how pained I had been by all I had seen. I was so foolish and ignorant–I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.

YET I still belong to you; you are holding my right hand.
      You will keep on guiding me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.

My health may fail,
     and my spirit may grow weak,
BUT GOD remains the strength of my heart;
     he is mine forever.

But those who desert him will perish, for you destroy those who abandon you.

But as for me, how good it is to be near God! [I saw another translation that said, “The nearness of God is my good” Isn’t that beautiful?!]

I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.

So, here I am, weak, but with God as the strength of my life. Not quite sure how all of that works, but glad, that even though I don’t understand it, I am experiencing the security and strength of walking with God, even when outwardly there are days I feel like I’m barely coping. I am weak, BUT GOD remains the strength of my heart.

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“Does it take what you’ve got before it gives what it gives you?”

That’s not really a million dollar question, but I call it that, because it gets close to the bottom line of my decision making process these days. With burnout, I tend to weigh any activity in terms of energy–energy it takes to do it, energy it gives me in the doing.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about the similarities and differences of burnout compared to other conditions of low energy, including chronic fatigue and depression. And while, indeed, there are many differences, the commonality of low energy means that I’ve gained a lot of insight by hearing what it is like to live and experience other diseases or conditions where exhaustion is a reality.

A common question (after the unspoken one, “Is it just in your head, a mind over matter thing?”) is, “Why can you do some things and not others?”  Or stated in another way, “Why do you seem to have energy to do the things you want to do, but not what you need to do?”

These are fair questions. And I will say that I often ask them of myself. Actually, I look at each situation and try to understand, “What is it that makes this seem doable and not that?” and “Why is this doable now, when it wasn’t earlier?” Being a lover of systemization, I think I’ve been compiling and collating and connecting my own observations. I don’t have any great answers, but I am getting a better idea of what goes into “having enough energy”. 

For today, the top question is one I’ve realized that I unconsciously ask before engaging in any activity. With burnout, unfortunately everything gets weighed by what it is going to do with the dregs of energy reserve that I have left. Is it going to decrease that energy or increase it?

Once I’ve asked that, I go through other questions, such as “How can I create the energy I need to do that task?” But each potential answer goes back to the original question, “Will doing this take the energy I’ve got before it gives me the energy it’s going to give me?”

I hate being so pragmatic, but that is part of coping with and fighting burnout. Accepting this as my reality actually helps as I let go of things that I can’t do. I think when I fight my reality of the burnout, I get more discouraged. When I accept it, I’m more free to find joy and contentment in this place, and not be so sad about all that I can’t do.

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…”Come unto me and rest;
lay down, thou weary one, lay down
thy head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
so weary, worn, and sad;
I found in him a resting place,
and he has made me glad.

This song began to run through my head tonight in response to the word “weary” being the most accurate description for how I’m doing at this very moment. I still have a couple more hours of work that I need to get done tonight. I may not be able to complete it, but I need to keep pushing towards getting it done until I’m no longer coherent. It’s only more complicated trying to do it during the day between homeschooling and taking care of other responsibilities that have to be done during the day.

So, I’m wishing I could literally lay down my head, but until I can, I’m spiritually responding to the invitation in this song, and once again, coming to Jesus (not that I have to go far 🙂 ) as I am~~weary, worn and sad.

Well, not sad so much tonight. But very weary and worn.

I think I might actually have some good news, or at least the possibility of good news about my housing situation. A Christian mortgage broker has taken on my housing situation very seriously and will be meeting with some underwriters with her company to discuss financing the house we are renting, which the owner has had to put up for sale. I was not very cooperative with this broker at the beginning. After four (or maybe it was five) failed attempts with other mortgage companies (my parents contacted a couple of them, I contacted a couple and the owners also contacted one or two on my behalf), I was very demoralized and did not want to tell my story to one more mortgage broker, confidently promising that she could arrange something, only to have it fall through.

My lifestyle is non-conventional and rather crazy. It doesn’t make any financial sense. God is providing for me? Well, that’s fine, but do you have receipts to show that? Can He write a letter to prove that He’ll keep providing? What, you’re a single Mom and you don’t have a “real” job? You work part time? You homeschool? You make how much each month? You’re self-employed? And you have skills that you could be working full time at a steady-paying job?  Well, for Pete’s sake, why aren’t you working full time at that steady job?

The questions were never asked quite that bluntly, but after several attempts at that, I was discouraged and demoralized. I didn’t need the repeated reminders that trusting God looks crazy.  Friends would say, “Oh, I know this mortgage broker that can really get creative financing.” But I just couldn’t face being told, yet again, that my lifestyle is so far beyond “creative” as to look financially irresponsible, even though I am not in debt and have a good credit rating. My parents have been highly involved in this process, totally willing to cosign, but my income is so non-verifiable that I didn’t even qualify as part of a co-signed agreement.

I knew that God had been providing so that I could still mainly be at home. And I have no guarantees how long that I will be able to do that. But each day at home, I take as a gift from Him. I also knew that, if I were able to purchase this home, the payments would be very comparable to what I’d be paying for rent for a smaller place in the same town. But, without a mortgage, it didn’t seem like it would be possible to purchase the home and stay here, unless it were through a private investor, and no one was coming out of the woodwork for that, either. What I came to realize was that, if the only way I could qualify for this house would be to get a full time, steady job (which I could probably do immediately as a clerk for the school board), that I would rather choose to be at home with my children, even if it meant another move, as much as I dread that.

Now, with all of that background, I am asking that you would be praying tomorrow specifically about this. Because this Christian* mortgage broker thinks she has an underwriter willing to agree to a mortgage that my parents and I cosign. She is going to be meeting with some of the underwriters with her company tomorrow and will be explaining to them in great detail my situation. I am still in a bit of shock that she is very serious–serious enough that she wants us to go ahead and write up a contract and get the house appraised. Once they have a contract in hand, they will do the final deciding. But, tomorrow’s meeting is a significant one in this process.

So, here I am, back to “Your will be done,” holding my hands out. Tired of the uncertainty and strain. Confident God could provide so that I can stay. Knowing I’ll have to trust Him to carry me through another move if He doesn’t provide in this way. Weary and worn, but still hearing the voice of Jesus and still trusting Him to provide a resting place, even in the most unlikely of places and least restful of scenarios.

* I don’t say “Christian mortgage broker” implying that God can only do miracles through Christian people. It has just been reaffirming to be working with someone who understands and is encouraging about my situation, which can only make sense in the context of faith-living.

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If only it were that simple!

Please leave your empty cylinder here.

No wait, No Worry
Cylinder Exchange

Happiness is a Full Tank!

I dream of the day when I can once again know what that feels like–to have my personal energy tank be full. Or at least to be able to operate with some amount of energy reserve instead of feeling like I’m running only on fumes.

I woke up this morning emotionally gasping for air, trying to inhale enough oxygen not just for that breath, but trying to get a little extra to face the different tasks ahead of me. I have been running on empty for a very long time. I sometimes describe burnout as having no reserve. Literally, you have to fight for the energy you need for each thing you have to accomplish. One of my most common experiences with burnout is not being able to count on having all of the energy I need to accomplish something before I start it.  That is a scary place to be in, where even simple tasks carry an uncertainty as to how/if I will be carry them through to completion. (more…)

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This is my comfort in my trouble,
     that your promise gives me life…
It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
     that I might learn your statutes.
                          Psalm 119:50, 71

Today was a very heavy day for me, following several, consecutive, emotionally difficult days.

While waiting in line to pick up my son and daughter from school (yes, I know reading in the pick-up line at school is not the safest thing, but I do wait until I’ve come to a complete stop again before looking back down at my book. And I’ve not had as much time as I usually like to sit down and read for longer periods of time. So, I try to grab every moment I can.), I came across the above verses in Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness, by Kathryn Greene-McCreight. The author is writing in the context of her own struggle with mental illness.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the relevance of the gospel to every person in every circumstance. I am a worst-case-scenario type of person, and I do not say that in a negative way. It is just that if I’m going to believe something about God to be inherently true, it cannot just be true in the cozy comforts of America. It must be true for people who are starving in Asia, for those who are being persecuted, for those suffering the ravages of horrific wars (as if there is any other type), for those who battle with mental illnesses.

Whatever extreme situation I can imagine, I want to grapple with what the grace, mercy, provision and sufficiency of God looks like there, in that place. I also want to think about what it means to be the body of Christ in a world where everything, including our best relief efforts, are affected by the Fall. And yet, where, as believers, we have the opportunity to allow God’s grace to touch and impact people in those same complicated situations. I keep asking myself, “What does that look like?” because I have found that it never looks as simple or obvious or idealistic as I would like to think.

In that context, I am currently reading several books that look at different types of suffering. Some, like the one mentioned here and The Gift of Pain by Dr. Paul Brand, are written from a Christian perspective. Others, like Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and a long way gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah are not.

Since my car reading is quick and sporadic and I am reading Darkness Is My Only Companion in such little bursts, I tend to open it randomly and read a paragraph here and another there. Following the verses above, is this quote from the book’s conclusion:

It is good for me that I have been afflicted? Isn’t there an easier way to learn God’s statutes? How can I agree with the psalmist here? In the midst of all my ills, there have been indeed several concrete things that I can say that I learned, that God has taught me in his mercy and despite my misery.

Tonight, I find myself experiencing gratitude for what I am learning from the author’s deep and very prolonged struggles. Although my situation is different from hers, the lessons she shares are relevant to me. As I read her matter-of-fact observations and advice, which isn’t always directly relevant to my life, I was encouraged. That sounds trite, but let me tell you, in the middle of perpetual exhaustion from burnout, in the context of awful uncertainty about my housing situation, in being so overwhelmed by life and work as a single mom, being truly “encouraged” is very significant. Receiving courage to face the next moment when I’m not sure if or how I’ll survive the whole day–that’s  an amazing gift.

I don’t always know how or why I arrive at the end of some days almost hyperventilating from pushing myself to keep going against all odds and other days, like today, surprisingly, I have a lightness in my spirit in spite of waves of exhaustion and overwhelming feelings that kept hitting me throughout the day. But, is it possible, that in both scenarios–ending the day completely unsure how I’ll make it another day or ending the day confident that just as God has carried me so far, so I can trust Him to continue to help me make it–God’s grace is there? 

What does God’s grace look like when I awaken, literally crying out for help, just to face the day. What does His grace look like when I don’t see or directly feel His help? Reading these stories of survival against all odds, I see His grace, even when it is not acknowledged. And I thankful for how seeing that in the suffering of others has brought me back, again, to a place of worship and joy.

I’m not trying to sound super spiritual here. I do not experience this as a magical formula of “praise God and my troubles disappear.” Despair hits me in waves. There are many days where I am clinging to Him, not because I see His deliverance, but because I do not see any other option of how to get through. This week I have asked God many hard questions, and I do not think He has answered a single one.

Tonight, encouraged in an odd way by the stories I have been reading, I have joy and peace and I am grateful for the respite from battling to keep my head above water that comes with that. And so, in this moment, when it is easier to say, I want to affirm that God’s grace has been with me and active even in my pain, when I haven’t seen it. And I choose to continue to trust His faithfulness although longterm relief does not seem to be anywhere in sight.

Tomorrow, as I was yesterday, I may be back in a place of lament, a place where my heart is too heavy and I am too exhausted to recount the faithfulness of God. I am trusting, again, that His faithfulness and grace will still be there, in ways I do not understand and that do not fit my expectations for how I think God should be at work.

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More Energy

I’m always looking for ways to address burnout and increase my energy. A lot of the advice I read doesn’t seem to be very efficacious.  This site, however, was different. Way more honest–the author is definitively saying something that DOESN’T work: Pokemon cards.

She knows. Her kids sneaked a set of banned cards into the house and she immediately confiscated them. Before putting them up for sale on eBay, she tried carrying around the Energy cards in the pack. Nada. No more energy.

Vicariously, however, the laugh I got out of reading this story (including the amount of money the Mom got from selling her kids’ cards), gave ME enough energy to go exercise. So, ciao. I’m taking the energy I got and hoping to use it to generate some more at the gym.

Go to the original article. It’s way funnier than any synopsis I could give of it.

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I struggle with burnout.  My energy is almost never equal to the task. I exist in a chronic state of having to generate energy in order to expend energy.  I know the things that recharge my energy, but the drain has been so severe for so long, that even doing the things that recharge me is like putting one syringe of gas into an empty tank.

Burnout, although it can coexist with depression is not the same thing as depression. It is not the same thing as chronic fatigue. It has, however, increased my understanding and compassion for people who battle with those.

Burnout has also caused me to rethink what it means to be in relationship with God while being truly and desperately weak all the time. Burnout is the place where I continue to experience the faithfulness of God in ways I never imagined (mainly because I had imagined that God’s faithfulness would mean I’d be able to do everything easier 🙂 ). Burnout is where I am learning what it means to bring glory to God in a place that looks anything but “victorious” from external standards.

I will probably write more in the future about my experience of burnout. I’m still trying to figure out the “shape” of it myself. I share these things today, because they are the backdrop for the prayer I came back to this morning. I have prayed this prayer many times over the last several years. It was written by Catherine Parr (last wife of Henry VIII), and I discovered it in Near to the Heart of God: Meditations to Draw You Closer (p. 288):

Lord Jesus, help me to want what is most pleasant to you. You know what is best for me. Give what you will, when the right time comes, and in the quantity you prefer. Do with me as you please. Put me where you will. I am in your hands. I am your servant. I am ready to do whatever you command. You are the true peace of my heart and the perfect rest of my soul.

If you want me to be in light, I will praise you. If you want me to be in darkness, I will also praise you.

If you comfort me, I will bless you. If you allow me to be troubled, I will bless you.

O Lord, make possible by your grace that which is impossible by my nature.

Sometimes I think I am going to hold together, but when a little trouble comes, it tears me apart. Good Lord, you know my weakness, my frailness. Have mercy on me.

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