“Please pray for me; I struggle again with symptoms of burnout….” I listened as my husband shared his heart with our team. I sat, staring at him unemotionally, with my thoughts caught up in my own struggle with this situation.
How did we again get to this point? I wondered. Oh God, help me, give me hope, strength, patience, and grace to walk alongside him through this journey. My heart cried out in prayer and desperation.
For the last year and a half it had felt that life has been on a roll. Our team has been growing. The kids are doing well and are settled into local school. My husband has found a way of living out who he is in the local church group and in a leadership role in our sending organization; he has been stepping out into challenges again.
BURNOUT hit two years ago; my thoughts wandered back to the incidents leading up to that point. I was pregnant with our youngest and had problems in my pregnancy; we had just moved to a new house; my husband had done a year of full-time, intense language study at the local university; we had just gotten our first team member; we had very little pastoral support and care during our first year in our new host country, trying the one visa option after the other. A year before, we had been kicked out from the beloved country where we had lived and worked for nine years; we were grieving and missing the familiar. All of these put together were just too much.
“How do you think you can get through this?” I asked him, after he made that request to our team recently for prayer.
“I need to take time out every day, work office hours and then leave the computer at the office, delegate more and spend time in the presence of the Lord, sleep more and exercise regularly.” It helps that he does have an office space that he can retreat to outside our home. We have gone through this before, and I have faith to see us walk this path again. Now we know how it looks; we can recognize the danger signs and make changes before we find ourselves in fullblown burnout.
Walking as a family through recovering from burnout is like walking the extra mile on a daily basis. I know that I cannot do it on my own. I do get tired and frustrated; I struggle with resentment at times. How encouraging and comforting it is to have close friends whom I can ask for prayer, with whom I can share my heart when I feel overwhelmed with this situation!
Here are some things that help someone walk through burnout:
- Have someone with whom you can pray and share your hearts. All the family members involved should be able to share their hearts with people and receive prayer.
- There should be open communication with the children, and they should have full understanding (appropriate to their age and maturity) of what their father or mother is going through.
- Recognize that going back to the home country is not always the solution. Support and even medical care could be of great help there, but misunderstanding by family, church, or friends can add to stress levels.
- More time out is necessary—like sleeping more. Sleeping in, or even taking afternoon naps, can help. If the house is filled with constant noise and people, a person should try to find a place where he or she feels at home and can have quiet times.
- Medical care can be a wonderful help to climb back up over the edge; this could include antidepressants.
- Do not judge or have any emotional expectations during this time. Remember that the person involved needs to rest and recover.
Our medical doctor had a beautiful way of explaining burnout, describing us as having a little deposit in the brain filled with chemicals that help the body to fight stress. When that little deposit runs empty, the body, mind, and emotions cannot cope. Rest, sometimes along with medication, helps to fill that little pocket again.
The book “Honorably Wounded” by Marjory F. Foyle very beautifully unfolds the pain, the mystery, and the road to recovery from stress and burnout in service of the King. I also picked up a great book recently from our home-school program called “Miracles on Maple Hill Farm.” It is about a father who has burnout, how his family is affected, and how they walk the road together to recovery. After I read the first two chapters out loud to the children, our eldest daughter turned to me with tears in her eyes: “Do we have to read this book? It is too much like Daddy—it makes me sad.”
“Yes, honey, it will help us to understand what he is going through and how we can support him. It will give us hope that God will lead us through this. Things are not going to be like this always; it will get better. We need to understand what is happening and work together as a family,” I answered in faith.
To admit and recognize the symptoms and feelings for what they are is to have the battle half-won. Being open and honest with the children about what is going on helps us draw together as a family and to pray for Daddy in this. Hearing us say “This is not a disease he can die from” when we talked about Daddy was such a relief to the children.
With our hands in His, and His grace that is new every morning, we as a family can walk this path with my husband…to full recovery: “Daddy being ‘Honorably Wounded’ in the battle to see this nation come to Jesus.”
Thank You, God, that through this we again have the opportunity to honor You.
Question to consider: What things have you found helpful in recovering from burnout or in helping someone recover from burnout?