Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Beating Burnout - An Update

Photo Credit: Jaroslav A. Polak (Creative Commons)
About two months ago, I wrote a post confessing my entry into a season of burnout. Since then, I've received so many emails, messages, and phone calls filled with encouragement and wisdom. Friends and mentors have sat down for coffee and just listened to my story, simply asking questions and offering a listening ear and a caring presence. I've also had many ministry friends reach out to say, "I think I'm headed towards burnout too." I've been the listening ear for them, hearing their story and being a companion in the sometimes-painful trenches of ministry.

I've been ministered to, and been able to minister better to others. I can better empathize with those who have experienced seasons of depression, anxiety, and overwhelming stress. I have a better understanding about grieving with others, weeping with those who weep.

These past two months have been a season of debriefing, processing, discerning, confessing, repenting, healing, and praying. I don't think I realized just how deep my brokenness went, and how much healing and reformation is needed for my whole being.

I'm in the middle of beating burnout. A few particular resources have helped in this process. I've started going to counseling, which has been incredibly beneficial. I've given pastoral counsel to others, and encouraged plenty of people to seek professional therapy themselves, but hadn't been to a counselor myself. The experience has been refreshing and enlightening. I'd highly recommend church and ministry leaders to go to counseling at least once. It's a safe environment for processing and personal growth, where someone is asking *you* to open up as they listen, instead of the other way around.

I've also begun full-time classes at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, pursuing a graduate degree in hopes of getting a doctorate. Being around like-minded learners who are also in a season of personal growth and spiritual discernment has been a great environment for me. I'm taking two spiritual formation classes--one class on prayer, the other titled "spirituality and personality"--which have been just as personally eye-opening, convicting, and healing as my time in counseling.

I'm reading books about vocation, leadership, emotional health, prayer, intimacy, pain, and confession (See some of those books in the picture below). I've also been doing a lot of writing, including completing the manuscript for my third book, Jesus Goes to the Movies: The Youth Ministry Film Guide. (If you'd like me to write for your website, magazine, blog, or personal diary entries, contact me here!) Reading and writing are two life-giving exercises for me, so taking the time to read a stack of great books is awesome.

I've been able to spend significant quality time with my family. Having the energy and availability to be fully present with my wife and kids has been life-giving in so many ways. We go on walks, we play on playgrounds, we hang out at the Portland zoo and OMSI, and I've begun weekly daddy-son and daddy-daughter dates. We're eagerly awaiting our third kiddo in the next few weeks, and I'm sure having a new baby will bring even more love to our little family. I'm learning so much from my children, their innocence and growth and curiosity and apprehension and joy. Katie and I have had numerous dates and so many conversations processing our past and dreaming about the future. We're both on a vocational journey as we seek to continue schooling and imagine what the next ten years will look like, trusting the Lord with the vision and outcomes.

We have also been quietly attending various churches in the Portland area, seeking to find a church home for the foreseeable future, embedding ourselves into a community of grace, authenticity, and Jesus-y love. I wrote about 12 things that matter when searching for a church as part of this exploration. It's been strange, and a bit fun, to simply attend a church. As a pastor, I haven't had the opportunity to visit churches on Sundays for about a decade, or the freedom to *not* go to church on a particular morning. To gather with a community of believers and not be "on" in an official sense has been good for me. However, I already miss the beauty of discipleship and ministry, being a spiritual advocate and presence for others as they seek to follow Jesus. So, while we won't become overly busy with churchy things, we do want to dive into community within a body of Jesus-followers as we discern where I'll serve as a pastor next.

In all of this, I've wondered what God was up to. Did He know all this burnout stuff would happen? (Of course He did). So why allow this painful season? Did He lead me into it, or did I mistakenly stumble into it through a lack of discernment? Why does a life of ministry seem to inevitably involve a significant amount of emotional toil, weightiness, and suffering? How does one find the endurance to continue in ministry for the long haul? I've wondered if burnout--or at least "wilderness" seasons of exile and pain--are simply normal spiritual or ministry cycles, moments of disorientation as part of the spiritual life. I'm not sure. Beyond the counseling, the classes, the books, and the conversations with others, Jesus and I have had plenty of time together over these past weeks. Simply being with Jesus, wrestling and arguing and weeping and confessing and pleading and resting--this has been the primary source of healing and beating burnout. I've taken ownership of my own sin and pride, opening up my heart and allowing Jesus to heal deep wounds and unhealthy patterns. It's been so hard, yet so good.

This season of healing is not over yet, and may not be for a long time. But I have hope. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, a place of rest and renewed vision on the other side of the darkened valley. I'm reminded of my favorite book of the Old Testament, Habakkuk, and his final song to God after a season of questioning and doubt:
I heard and my heart pounded,
    my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
    and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
    to come on the nation invading us.

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.
Waiting patiently. 

Rejoicing in the midst of loss and pain. 

Finding strength in the Lord.

These are the postures I hope to maintain throughout my days. The sovereign Lord is my strength. He gives me firm footing in a world of unsteady foundations. He brings me up out of valleys into the heightened light of grace.

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