Pam has recently turned me on to the writing of Parker J. Palmer. Last week I read his book “Let Your Life Speak” on a Christian understanding of vocation. There are a lot of quotes from Palmer that I could share because it is an excellent book, but I thought I would share this one concerning burnout.
Palmer writes in his book:
Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess-the ultimate in giving too little! Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have: it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.
This quote fits in nicely with one of my understandings of idolatry. Idolatry does not only lead to us worship a false god but it also destroys the very thing that we try to worship. The object that we are wrongly worshiping was never meant to have that much meaning placed upon it. The idol can’t handle that pressure and is thus destroyed by it. It is the irony of idolatry that it destroys the very thing worshiped.
Palmer’s description of burnout has a similar focus. We burnout not because we give too much but because we don’t actually have what we are trying to give. I can’t actually be someone’s messiah. I don’t have that ability in me. Therefore, when I try to be someone’s salvation all I do is let them down and burn myself up because it is too great task for me. When I recognize the abilities and strengths that God has given me and function within them I function well. When I step out of those abilities and strengths and don’t refer to others, or more importantly to Him, when the time is needed then I push myself into situations that I am not capable of handling.
I see ministers do this regularly. We want to help our parishioners and someone view referring them to someone else as a weakness. Then we start to take on things we never should. I am a trained pastoral counselor and pastoral theologian. To be honest I think God has gifted me as a pastoral counselor and thus I believe I am pretty good at it. Yet, that doesn’t mean that I have the same skill set as a trained counselor. They have experience and training that I do not and I have training and experience that they do not have. I have to recognize this and refer to them when a referral is needed.
When I was a youth minister one of the things I regularly needed to refer on was cutting. It was just something that I couldn’t wrap my mind around. The best thing I could do to help the teens that I dealt with was walk them, and their parents, through the process of finding someone who could help. I wasn’t leaving them to fend for themselves but I also wasn’t trying to give them something that I didn’t posses.
This is part of why for me counseling situations typically don’t last more than sixish sessions without me referring someone to other help. I don’t want to try and give someone in need something that I don’t posses. To do so wouldn’t be any good for them or for me.