On Burnout: A Struggling Pilgrim

On Burnout: A Struggling Pilgrim March 23, 2014

Yesterday I started awake with a gasp, pain searing through my calf, knee, and up my thigh.  My entire leg cemented into unbending form and I writhed and cried out in agony from the knife-like sensation.  My calf was cramping.  My muscles were overworked and undernourished.  These days, I feel as if most of my muscles are overworked and undernourished.

I think they call this burnout.

Realizing I was arriving at this dreaded location a few weeks ago, I put myself back on a regular workout regiment.  Running unburdens me.  Most of the time, if I’m honest, I feel utterly helpless.  I spend hours upon hours doing work that I’m not sure will make any difference.  But on the treadmill, I can find results.  On the treadmill, I feel powerful again.  When my body says to stop, I can still make it go, just by sheer willpower.  When my muscles burn and ache, I can push forward.  The treadmill is my safe place.  The anger and frustration pent up from years of doing work where I watch people dehumanize and violate one another flows out through the soles of my sneakers.  The hurt I can’t feel because I’ve gone numb flows out through the sweat that pours from my face.  The grief over friendships I have lost and companions who have betrayed me flows out as victorious miles on the red digital counter as it steadily climbs higher.  With every thud, thud, thud, of my running shoes, I chant to myself, “This is the part where you beat the odds.”

My friends keep telling me to slow down.  And I’ve been listening.  But on the treadmill, I can tell myself to speed up.  Run harder.  Run faster.  My body will thank me for it later. If there’s something I can control, it’s that.  Until I get a leg cramp.

Perhaps my body is cramping much like my spirit.  If I am honest, it often feels as if there is so much brokenness that I can never do enough.  Sometimes I am really very hard on myself about it all.  Every moment I spend doing something else really does feel like time that is slipping quietly away while people suffer, and I can’t help but remind myself of it with regularity.  My critics reinforce my inadequacies with stunning consistency, reminding me that I am not doing enough, or well enough, or to their liking enough.  They are right.  I am not.  I cannot.  I don’t think I was ever meant to, actually.

I really can’t tell you all the horrific things I’ve heard.  It’s enough to make a person cry inconsolably for days, weeks, months.  Frankly, even if I could tell them to you I wouldn’t want to, because I’m tired of hearing them, even from my own lips.  I, myself, silence the voice of the sufferers, because I can’t bear the pain of remembering theirs.  Someone has to make up for this brokenness.  I often forget that someone already has, and it isn’t me.  Sometimes I am told not to take life so seriously.  In my own bitterness, I confess, I often think that if others would take it just a little more seriously, perhaps I could scale it back a notch.  But for now, while so many seem content to stand idly by or, worse, to contribute to the problems, I often feel I must do twice as much.

The stories of the sufferers remind me how helpless we are.  Sometimes I find myself in surprising situations where strangers are sharing deeply personal struggles with me and I discover, even as I receive their stories with warmth and kindness, that I am completely and utterly incapable of being authentically responsive to their pain.  My vision is blinded by an enormous running tally number I see which sits on their shoulder as they recount traumas and heartache – parental abandonment, suicide, homelessness, divorce, abuse, AIDS, drug and alcohol addictions, anger at God.  “Just another one to add to the list,” I think, as I watch the ticker numbers click into place on their shoulder while mumbling hollow things to comfort them that I’m not even sure I mean or believe.

I wish folks could learn to put up with differences better.  Truth be told, I wish I could figure that out too.  It’s odd to teach others how to be peace-builders when you’re not sure you’ve figured it out.  Actually, the only thing I’m sure of is that I haven’t figured it out yet.  But I sure do hate the ways I see Yahweh’s name dragged through the mud by the people who pretend to serve him, and truth be told, I hate the ways I see myself do it too.  Especially when I pretend to be doing reconciliation work and all I can see are tally numbers adding up on the shoulder of a person who is crying in my presence.

Thank goodness for His mercies.

I had no idea what I was starting with all of this.  Most days I feel totally inadequate. I wonder if I am strong enough or smart enough or resilient enough.  I suppose I’m not, and that’s probably the point anyway.  But even knowing that doesn’t keep me from growing angry at the strangest things.  This weekend, the anger hijacked me when someone stood up in a public meeting and made a statement regarding frustrations over how her denomination was delegating their funds. I agreed with her argument, but I was so angry at how badly she made it that I found my jaw clenching.  Her words weren’t cohesive, intelligent, compelling, or even very reasonable.  She ruined her own good point by expressing it poorly and I watched as everyone in the room ignored her.  I wanted to scream at her for failing in that moment, and scream at the Christians for treating her as if she was less worthy because she wasn’t eloquent.  But mostly, I wanted to scream at myself, for thinking less of her and not wanting to listen to her simply because she was inarticulate.  “Where is Christ in me, in the church, in my fellow Christians?  Why does he feel so far off when we encounter the ‘other’?” I often wonder.

It’s a very strange experience to hate Christians so much when I am one of them.  It’s a very strange thing to hate churches so much, when I attend one that I love so deeply.  It’s a very strange experience even to sometimes hate the LGBT community so much when I count them as some of my closest, dearest friends.

I spend so much energy trying to convince other Christians to stop hating when my own heart is filled with so much anger and hatred.  I spend so much energy trying to convince LGBT folks that some Christians really aren’t bigots while I face my own inconsistencies daily and I wonder, sometimes, if maybe even I am one.

Sometimes I feel like a woman without a home.

And so, this heavy-hearted pilgrim, these days, has one prayer: Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus!  Take our brokenness to the foot of the cross where you make all things new.


~~~~~~~~~~WHAT ABOUT YOU?~~~~~~~~~~

Do you ever get burnt out?

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