Writers Can Burn Out Too!
“The only thing worse than nostalgia is amnesia.” Ravi Zacharias, famed speaker and author once said this. For months, I felt like one of the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness. In an unprecedented turn of events, I had not been involved in any of my church’s activities for over a year. When my co-author, Mark Sutton was our pastor, my second “job” kept me occupied at our church. When he retired, it seemed I did too.
At first, I was very uncomfortable. My connection with the “inner circle” was severed. My knowledge of the direction of the church was no different than the person sitting next to me in the worship service. The very fact I was SITTING in a worship service instead of running around behind the scenes helping to make things happen was a disturbing but new development for me.
The months passed and that gnawing sense of urgency begin to wane. I settled more comfortably into my seat each Sunday. I stopped trying to rewrite our new pastor’s sermons for him. I no longer imagined new dramas for the stage or new videos to flash up on the screen to help him illustrate his sermons. Within a year I began to worship with my fellow church members. I relaxed and let God move through me and into me. I discovered, once again, the joy of God wrapping his arms around me and healing me of my depressive thoughts, my obsessions with creativity, my desire to be a part of the moving mesh of men and women who drove my church forward into the future.
My first shock was receiving our church’s monthly “senior adult” newsletter. I blinked in utter confusion and tossed it unopened into the trash. I was NOT a senior adult. True, I was now “over 50”. But, I had long ago decided I would not be a senior adult until I reached 80. Had I “retired” from God’s work? It was at this point my restlessness returned. Mark and I were hard at work finishing up our manuscript for “Hope Again” and soon, I would have free hours again.
Every morning when I awaken, I ask God, “Lord show me what work you want me to do today. Let me always be about the business of doing the work You have for me and not for just myself.” As the days of editing came to a close, I found time on my hands again. And, looking at my church I once again began to wonder if I was meant to do more than warm up a seat in the worship center.
On Halloween evening, my wife reminded me it was time to go to church and help out with our Family Carnival, an alternative to Trick or Treating for preschoolers and their families. I hesitated. Can’t I just stay here and pass out candy? Part of my reluctance was my pride. For years I was a Sunday School teacher, a member of the choir, a soloist, a member of the most powerful committees of our church, and the director of our drama ministry for almost 15 years. And, now my greatest contribution to the church would be to make popcorn for toddlers?
On the way to the church I lifted a simple prayer to God. I asked him to show me where and what I was to do if I was to do anything at all. If my days of service were done, I prayed for God to break my prideful heart and let me be joyful in handing a bag of popcorn to a little girl dressed as a Disney princess. For such “simple” acts of service are as important and as powerful as producing an Easter pageant.
My current pastor, Mike Smith showed up at the popcorn booth and asked to speak to me. Mike and I had worked together extensively when Mark Sutton was our past. At that time, Mike was in charge of the logistics of the worship service and we planned all the videos and dramas Mark desired. But, since becoming our pastor four years before, Mike and I had only casual conversations. What had I done? Was I in trouble? He sat beside me and poured his heart out about his daughter who would graduate from high school this year. She was terrified of college and losing her faith! Mike was terrified she would be ostracized and persecuted because of her faith. We both knew the statistics. 60% of high school students who are regular church attenders will denounce their Christian faith by the time they finish college. He wanted a “boot camp” weekend seminar for high school seniors in how to maintain their faith in college. As a trained apologist (one who defends the truthfulness of the Christian faith) I had dreamed of holding just such an event for five years now. I had worked with our state association four years before on having a statewide event and it had died on the hard, rocky soil of indifference.
Mike and I had lunch and soon the event was on the church schedule. He asked me to help him plan a sermon series in the spring on apologetics for our entire congregation. My friend and partner in apologetic teaching, Mark Riser, were asked to teach an ongoing class on any apologetic issue we desired. Our new children’s minister came to me and asked me to help reboot our family worship experience, Kidstuf. I had worked with our former children’s minster four years before in getting this high energy, live drama song and dance format up and running on a weekly basis and I had not been involved in over a year.
Suddenly, my plate was full. Be careful what you ask for! And here is my point of this long discourse. Don’t have amnesia! Longing for the past can be dangerous, that is true. But, forgetting about the decisions we make in the past that have led us into depression is very dangerous indeed. The key factor in my worst depressive episode was burnout. I had overextended myself for months and burnout tackled me to the ground behind my own scrimmage line. I had been sacked by burnout.
Pay careful attention to this week’s Physician’s Fact and Q&A. Burnout is one of the most common causes of depression in church going Christians. We don’t know how to say “NO”. Even as I am writing this blog post, I am practicing the NO word. Already, what has started out as simple requests to “help out” are turning into “take charge”. And, thankfully, my wife Sherry is helping me put out the orange cones. I am straying off the path into that area of my life where I will be unable to say NO and I know what waits for me off that safe path. Depression!
In our book Hope Again, Mark and I talk about safety cones and learning to say NO. Check out our website conqueringdepression.com and get the book. Review those chapters! Hang on to those LifeFilters as anchors in God’s word. And here is the thought I challenge you and I to take with us today:
When we say NO to unreasonable requests, we are not saying NO to God. We are saying NO to our own pride! And ultimately, to burnout!