On Burnout

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength
(Isaiah 30:15).

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Journal entry from April 19, 2007. I’m tired, so very tired. And it’s my own doing. I control my own schedule, so why did I do this to myself? I’m neglecting my own needs for the sake of others, and I’m neglecting my family’s needs for my own. I’m tired physically and emotionally and can feel depression creeping in. It’s time to say no to everyone today and spend time with God. Just for now. For one hour, I’m going to focus on Jesus. Shut out the needs and screams of others demanding my attention.

You take care of them, Lord. I give the whole package up to you: my schedule, the people in my life, my day, my accomplishments. Today is Your day. I will take it at Your pace, one thing at a time, one step at a time. I pray that You will screen my interruptions today. Guide my every thought. Amen.

April 20. Yesterday was rejuvenating to me. I took the whole day just for me. I deep-cleaned the house, balanced the checkbook, sorted stuff out, made cookies, went shopping for groceries. The one thing I didn’t do was answer the 25 phone calls that rang! It felt awful doing so, but I was beyond caring. I knew I had to take care of myself before I could take care of others. It felt so good to get my house in order. Now I’m ready to serve again.

Put on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
Lift up your voice to God.
Praise with the spirit and with understanding,
O magnify the Lord.

Too Many Hats

hats-fedora-hat-manufacture-stackThis journal entry goes back to my teaching days at a junior college, but I find I still have seasons when I struggle to find that perfect balance in my various life roles.

The demands on my time have increased exponentially this winter. I’m trying to wear five to six different hats at once, and each one is a fulltime job: housewife, mom, teacher, editor, office worker, prayer minister. Each job has its joys and challenges. Each by itself is manageable, but put them all together and it’s a recipe for burnout.

Right now I’m struggling to wear my teacher hat. Yesterday’s English class was sheer melodrama. One student cried the whole class because her grandpa was dying. Another left early because her mom was taken to the ER. And a third was irate and belligerent because she failed to follow the instructions for an assignment, created some other work to make up for it, and then didn’t get credit for it. Who needs this kind of grief!?

Why did I agree to take this job in the first place? It has its rewarding moments, but for an introvert like me, teaching drains me, wears me out, and is stressful and time-consuming. Give me a desk job shuffling papers any day! Or wearing my prayer minister hat—now that’s fun and rewarding. So why did God give me this source of revenue? I’m grateful, but it’s not filling my soul. I don’t think I’m suited for this task.

If I could compartmentalize a little more, maybe I could focus better. I want to put each job into a box and let it stay there until its allotted time to think about it. But my mind doesn’t work that way–it’s not wired to multi-task. It’s racing and scattered and unfocused.

And so I mentally go to the hall closet, snatch up my jumble of hats and toss each one into a different room. Now when I’m in one room, that’s all I can focus on. I can’t BE in two rooms at the same time.People/relationships can walk in and out of each room I’m in, and I can stop and interact with them.

The first challenge for me right now is being in one room physically while I’m in another room mentally. I find I want to hurry up with the tasks in this room so that I can get back to the Study or the Library or the Rec Room. The other challenge is deciding which room I need or want to be in and when.

And God? Thankfully He’s in every room of my house. However, I desperately need concentrated, uninterrupted time in the Prayer Room.

Lord, help me to be fully present with each person who enters each room of my house today. And will You be my Guide for which room(s) to work in and when?

How do YOU manage your closetful of hats?

 

Excuses Excuses!

Walking

All of my life I have struggled with getting enough exercise. I seem to be able to do it for a while and then I quit the routine.  I envy those who seem to enjoy it and thrive on bodily movement. I have one daughter who thinks dancing is fun. I prefer to sit in the library and read!

I prefer to excuse my lack of exercise as a physical or time issue, but if I’m honest with myself, it’s really a spiritual one. My body is God’s temple. I know that and I practice it when it comes to sexual purity, but somehow choosing to stay healthy doesn’t feel like such a priority—and I know this attitude will come back to bite me someday.

A tithe of time for a 24-hour period is 2.4 hours. I can manage to devote one hour to nourishing my soul and another hour to feeding my spirit, so why can’t I devote one hour to maintaining the body?

So . . . is it a priority to me or is it not? It’s time to put my excuses down on paper and examine my heart.

#1 I don’t enjoy it, so it feels like a chore, and chores feel like . . . work.
#2 I don’t have it scheduled into my daily routine.
#3 Routine, for me, is best kept if it’s scheduled for first thing in the morning, but I have other priorities in place already for that time slot.
#4 It’s a time factor. I don’t have enough time in my morning routine to add a half hour of exercise. But if I delay it till later in the day, other things crowd it out.
#5 It’s a timing issue. I don’t want to do it when I’m too hungry or too full. I know–more excuses.
#6 I’m not hurting enough. Only pain seems to get me motivated.

Here’s my visual: I see a stand-up, circular shell (like a stiff grass zana mat in a Nigerian village).

zana mat to use

The soul/spirit inside may be nice and supple, but the shell is hard and rigid. And that’s okay if I plan to remain in one place. And that’s okay if my body is paralyzed like  quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada and I don’t have a choice. But I do have a choice.

What is my motivation to loosen up the shell? If the soul starts to move, and the shell can’t keep up, the shell will trip and fall on its face. And then the body will become dependent on other people to care for it.  (Forgive me, my daughters, if that happens.)

I can see myself in a race, zana mat around me, but now I have feet and legs. So what’s keeping me from finishing the race? Those pesky excuses.

What’s yours?

Postscript: Once I worked through and addressed each of my excuses, I began walking my neighborhood 2-3 times a week with no emotional resistance. I invested in an iPod so I could listen to podcasts and books on tape, and I started to snap photos of trees and flowers that reflect the changing seasons. Eventually, I found myself looking forward to this body movement (I still can’t bring myself to call it exercise!)

On Love

Let love for your fellow believers continue and be a fixed practice with you—never let it fail. (Hebrews 13:1)

God loved me when I was most unlovely, and He loved me before I loved Him. In turn, I want to radiate God’s love to others, no matter what they are like or how they treat me. But how does one do that?

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My Visual:  I see a thick steel cable stretching from the cross to the end of time. And I am walking on a platform beneath this cable, but I cannot fall off because I am harnessed and hooked onto the cable with a permanently sealed brass ring. Nothing can release me from God’s love or His covenant (Heb. 13:20-21). I may slip or stumble, but the cable from me to Him is strong. I will not fall. I am safe.

An obstacle in my path might try to prevent me from moving forward, but God can remove it for me. Or my brass ring might get tarnished and I’ll need to polish it with prayer. I may get distracted on my journey, but sometimes it’s okay to stop and look around and rest and see the beauty and the scenery around me. I get so focused on my goal that I forget to do that sometimes.

And now I see that I’m actually on a moving platform. It’s God’s job, God’s timing, and His decision as to when to move the platform forward and when to make it stop still—because my concern is not the end goal (I can’t see the end anyway because it stretches to eternity). For now, I have a job to do—rest when He says rest; keep alert when He moves me forward; look around and enjoy the scenery; fight the good fight, keep my spiritual armor on at all times.

Suddenly I see myriads of other cables—each person is hooked to his/her own, each on a separate platform. I can reach out and touch several people. One is on a steady platform, and we spur each other on to love and good works. Another one is afraid. Her platform is wobbly, disconnected, unstable, and she keeps looking down. I keep encouraging her to take the next step and to put her faith in the cable. Another one accuses me falsely of knocking her off-balance. I remind her to refocus on her own cable. Help me, Lord, to love well each one in my sphere of influence.

Let us continue to invest our lives in people even though we may not see immediate results. (Missionary Sam Goertz)

A Chance Encounter?

A friend of mine once challenged me to be on the lookout for God-sightings throughout my day. This one didn’t take much imagination on my part to see His footprint!

July 2007 Journal. Scott and I are attending managers’ meetings for Moody, and I had Bookstore 2some time to myself. I was praying that God would give me an opportunity to minister to someone this week, but little did I know that He’d planned something special for me this afternoon.

I wandered down the street and into a two-story bookshop, found a secluded corner and plopped down on a comfy couch to read. Before I got to page two in my book, a young couple sat down in the seats next to me. Within two sentences of greetings, she began to tell me that they’d just gotten word that she’s pregnant and that she was feeling both excitement and fear. She said she felt like she was in a dark place.

I asked her if she’d like me to pray with her, and she agreed. Immediately, God gave her a visual of Himself being in the dark room with her, and she no longer felt alone. The anxiety left her.

A chance encounter? Hardly. She said she’d been praying for an answer to her fear for the last 24 hours and hadn’t slept all last night. God heard her prayer—and mine.

Have you had a God-sighting lately?

 

Learning Through Suffering

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered (Hebrews 5:8 NASB).pexels-photo-551590

Was it only at Gethsemane and the cross that the Son of Man suffered and therefore learned obedience? Or was He learning it all along?

How was junior high for Him? Was He rejected, accepted, or loved by His peers? As a toddler, did He get into trouble for wandering off? When did He first understand enough to respond in obedience to Mary or Joseph’s commands? As a ten-year-old, ever feel sad when He saw injustice, poverty, or illness, and knew that it wasn’t His time yet to make things right? That he had the power to heal, but didn’t because He was learning obedience to His Father? What about His temptation in the wilderness?

Was it a shock to Mary when she had a second child and found that he had a sin nature? Did Jesus’ sibs feel jealousy toward Him? Was He given preferential treatment because He was the firstborn, or because He was such a goody-goody? I suspect Jesus’ suffering began at conception—the Creator of the space of the universe confined to the space of a womb.

Why am I surprised when someone reacts positively during a trial? I expect him or her to struggle, to rage, to cry and complain. But when someone gives glory to God and rejoices in the suffering, I’m suspect. Is she for real!? Perhaps it’s because I know my own heart. . . .

Why do I/we believe that we don’t deserve sorrow and pain? Our behavior is often an attempt at pain denial or pain removal. When is pain part of God’s plan and we should embrace it and lean into it?

Past emotional pain—remove it. Present pain—lean into it.

There’s always a purpose for our suffering . . . God never wastes our pain. Jesus learned obedience. What have you learned?

A Mountaintop Experience–Glimpses into other worlds

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I don’t have an imagination large enough to picture what it must have been like for Moses to encounter God on Mt. Sinai or to enter into the experience of Peter, James, and John who saw a glimpse of God’s glory atop the Mount of Transfiguration or to identify with Isaiah who had a vision of the Lord “high and lifted up.” I have friends who report having seen angels and others who’ve had a near-death experience.

Why does God allow some people to see visions, to see the “other world,” to have a deeper sense and understanding of and insight into the spiritual dimension?

Wouldn’t  mountaintop experiences like these change a person forever? You might think after such an event: I’d never sin again, never doubt, never have another fear. But it’s not so. At some point we have to return to base camp and live in the earthly realm where we experience hurts and triggers.

There were a million Israelites on the journey through the wilderness, but God CHOSE only one through whom to communicate and commune. There were 12 disciples, but Jesus CHOSE only 3 to see His glory. Out of all the prophets, only one records an experience similar to Isaiah’s.

God CHOSE for me to grow up in a remote village on the continent of Africa and to answer His call on my life at an early age. But He did not choose to give me the gift of sight into the spirit realm. He chose me to minister to wounded and abused and hurting people—me!—who has experienced so little hurt in my life. Me—a vessel offered to God for His use. No special talents or gifts, just average in skill, intelligence and energy being used by God so that He gets the glory. I just have to be faithful.

Would I really want to have been in Moses’ shoes? To catch a glimpse of God’s glory but then have to follow through and lead a bunch of rebellious, griping, thirsty, murderous stiff-necked people through the heat of the desert? Would I be willing to follow Jesus to martyrdom like the apostles? Or grind through a life of rejection and abuse as a prophet? I will not envy the mountaintop experiences of these giants in the faith. God has given me what I need now and prepared me for what He wants in the future, and that is enough.

I want to be faithful for life, not to falter when my body fails me or my mind quits working. I want to be faithful till I draw my last breath, at which time I will be able to see at last into the spirit realm and experience the Lord in all His glory, high and lifted up. I’m happy to wait for my mountaintop experience.

What kind of experiences prepared you for your work for the kingdom?

Burnout with Care-taking

Following the death of my father in November 2007, we brought Mom home to stay with us for awhile. Here’s a journal entry from that time 10 years ago.Grave Stone Mom 1

January 8, 2008. The Christmas holidays have done me in, and I’m trying to recover from burnout. It’s not a pleasant place to be when others are depending on you. But I must practice what I preach and take care of myself before I can successfully care for others.

In my self-righteousness, I criticize others for allowing themselves to get into this position, but now I find myself wallowing in the same mire.

Interesting that I just recently attended a seminar on being a caretaker for the elderly. The first thing that was emphasized was to take breaks and take care of yourself. And I failed to do that. I failed in the first rule of thumb, and now I’m paying for it.

Can I give myself permission to recuperate without feeling guilty? Without accepting the accusing fingers that I’m not giving others the time they need? How does a counselor maintain distance? Once you become the counselee’s only lifeline, you get accused of abandoning, neglecting, ignoring, being selfish, and blamed if their needs aren’t being met by you.

Where does my responsibility to myself, my family, my friends and my counselees begin and end? Balance and priority. It’s easy enough to tell someone else what to do and how to do it. Harder to practice what you preach.

The key? Listen to Jesus and listen to yourself. Obey God no matter what. And then find out what it is that you’re feeling, what’s driving you to this point. I failed to do that during the seven weeks Mom came to live with us. And so, belatedly, I’m going to try to work through this.

First, I’ve noticed some similarities and differences between child-care and elder-care.

  1. You can tell/train a toddler. You must give dignity and respect to the elder.
  2. A child may not understand. An elder can (if she has all her faculties).
  3. Both are driven by emotion.
  4. A child needs more supervision. My mom needed more diversion.

And that, I think, is where I felt the push-pull. I became Mom’s sole source of diversion. Mom is an out-loud thinker and therefore, by default, I became her primary target. Because I’m an inside thinker for the most part, I can’t function too well with the distractions of chatter that expect a response. I have a hard time focusing and thinking about my task at hand. I spent much of my time reading to her, playing games together (Scrabble and Rook), or doing crossword puzzles.

Mom could not enjoy the TV or movies because of her macular degeneration. She missed her independence at home with her CCTV (a device that enlarges print). And so I became very attentive to her need to be listened to. Her one and only diversion was to listen to books on tape—her default if I was preoccupied.

I love my mother, and I’d do anything for her. I felt sorry for her loss of her husband, her home in California, her forced move to Florida. I felt bad leaving her alone or not including her in all the family activities, and so I isolated myself with her sometimes while the family watched TV.

Where did this feeling of responsibility or obligation come from? Because she is a guest in my home? Because she’s the weakest link right now in our family? Because I feel sorry for her that she’s trapped in an old person’s body with poor eyesight, in someone else’s home? Funny. . . Mom never complained or criticized me. So what was driving my behavior and emotions?

Visual:  I’m carrying Mom on my back. I get tired and have to put her down to rest. I keep carrying her past the point of my exhaustion. And I shouldn’t have because then, if I fall, we both get hurt.

Today I lay my burden down—not a burden in a negative sense, but as in a load. From off my shoulders, I set down my mother, my children, my husband, cooking and house cleaning, friends, counselees, and my entire to-do list. Today I give myself permission to rest.

January 9. I feel 100% better after resting yesterday. I have my energy and drive back. Sometimes mental rest is as important as the physical.

The Christmas Thorn Bush

Journal 2007. Celebrating an American-style Christmas in Nigeria had its challenges. Because the pagan nationals worshiped the rocks and trees, we shied away from erecting a Christmas tree in our home. But one year we persuaded our parents to cut down a thorn bush on which we hung our popcorn strings and homemade ornaments.acacia_2568527

This week I find myself in a situation where I may potentially run into someone who pricks me every time I get near her.

Jesus says, “Put an ornament of blessing on the projecting thorn!”

Thanks, Lord. I can do that.

What Is Joy?

Relax Woman looking sea on the beach

Contentment for the body = pleasure.
Contentment for the soul = happiness.
Contentment for the spirit = joy. (Pastor Allen Jackson, WOC)

I asked my daughter Katie if she would rather have peace or would she rather have joy? Both are fruits of the spirit. Katie said she would opt for joy, while I gravitate toward peace, but I think they’re related somehow.

I know I need to put more joy into my life. I’m way too serious. (Scott says his job in life is to keep life interesting for me). But what is joy exactly? Elation? Exuberance? People try to differentiate between joy and happiness saying happiness is dependent on circumstances while joy is not. That joy is not an emotion. Yet I experience a lot of emotion when I feel joy.

Joy is running, skipping, dancing, doing cartwheels in wild abandonment. Joy is swinging from a vine and feeling your stomach drop. Sadness and sorrow are on a lower, earthly plane. Joy is above the earth, on a supernatural plane that sees heaven, an absence of pain, a future and at hope. It’s flying above the clouds. It’s mental; it’s emotional; it’s physical. And it’s spiritual when it includes God. He invites me to enjoy Him!

I have told you these things [about abiding in Him] that my joy and delight may be in you, and that your joy and gladness may be full measure and complete and overflowing (John 15:11).

I see Joy as a little girl laughing and dancing in the wind just before the onset of a storm, leaves swirling at her feet, the air heavy with  impending rain. As I watch, the scene decelerates to slow motion, and Joy is alone in the universe. The surroundings fade away and she hears singing; she’s suspended in midair, caught in light by a force that is greater than herself, cocooned, as it were, in softness and delight, comfort and safety, rocked gently back and forth as a baby on a bed of angel wings. Total calm; perfect peace. Joy.

Joy is defined as “Someone is glad to be with me.”
Joy is high energy; shalom is quiet and low-energy.
Joy is relational; shalom is a cozy sense that everything is right.
(Joy Starts Here, by Jim Wilder, et. al.)

Joy to the World, the Lord Is Come.