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Beware of burnout

Pastor Michael Walrond Jr | 10/13/2011, 11:42 a.m.
Temper tantrums and handcuffs

In his book, "Questions God Asks Us," Trevor Hudson tells a story of a man who went to see a doctor because he was very depressed. The doctor examined the man and found him to be physically fit, so the doctor said to the man, "There is a circus in town with a marvelous clown by the name of Grimaldi. Everybody who goes to see him laughs. Why don't you do the same thing? He'll make you laugh and then you will feel much better."

The patient replied, "Doctor, that won't help. I am Grimaldi."

Grimaldi's story and struggle is one with which many of us can relate. It is that moment in your life when you come face to face with the reality that you have given so much of yourself to help others that there is nothing left for yourself.

There is a helplessness that accompanies moments of physical, spiritual and emotional depletion, especially when the depletion comes as a result of selflessness. You enlist yourself in the struggles of others, believing that your presence can assist in providing strength for the battles that others may face.

In fact, persons close to you seek out your advice and support because they recognize your willingness to "be there" for them in their time of need. You become the go-to person for everyone around you and, for a while, this gives you a deep and personal sense of purpose.

Truthfully, there is something quite beautiful and noble about the individual who recognizes the necessity of participating in the enhancement of another human being. I often wonder what our world would look like if more people took this responsibility more seriously, but I also recognize one of the dangers of unchecked selflessness: burnout.

Our journey to burnout is often filled with great acts of giving and shaped by grand gestures of compassion and care. This may be why burnout comes like a thief in the night. We are so consumed with doing what we believe to be good and worthwhile that, before we realize it, we have nothing left to give and we feel powerless to rectify our exhaustion.

A few years ago, at a spiritual retreat, Pastor Tory, the youth and young adult pastor at First Corinthian Baptist Church, presented a workshop entitled, "Selfish for the Sake of Community." In the workshop, Pastor Tory spoke of how selfishness is usually viewed negatively in our culture and can be found at the heart of much of the dysfunction that plagues many of our communities. He spoke of the dangers and pitfalls of selfishness, but also suggested that a little selfishness may be necessary at times.

Pastor Tory was speaking directly to those of us who frequently empty ourselves for the benefit of others and constantly find ourselves at the brink of burnout. Pastor Tory warned that if we do not take time for restoration and renewal, we will not be of service to those we seek to help.

I have discovered that there will be moments in our lives when it will be necessary to be a little selfish about the time dedicated to healing and rest or else the weight of burnout will cause us to emotionally buckle. Today, be a little selfish. Take time for you!