Tuesday, 15 November 2016


Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. 'I have had enough, Lord,' he said. 'Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.' Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, 'Get up eat.' He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, 'Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.' So he got up and ate and drank. 1 Kings 19:3-8

The passage above comes immediately after one of the most powerful demonstrations of God's power. 

'At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: 'Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.' Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, 'The Lord - He is God! The Lord - He is God!' 1 Kings 18:36-39

Lately, I've not been feeling myself. Life is full of good things. Our daughter has settled amazingly well into the family and has recently started to walk; she is far and away the healthiest child we have had at this age. Homeschooling is going well, and we seem to have hit a nice rhythm. Of course, there are the occasional challenges and days where we seem to be correcting attitude more than working through our resources. But on the other hand, this is one of the important aspects of home education, and we embrace that as a blessing and a privilege (once we've had some coffee and a little time to reflect). We are involved in a lively church where we have several ministry opportunities where we can use the gifts we have, and where we can open our home for lively discussions of the Bible. The children are increasingly involved through singing and playing with other children whilst the mens' Bible study takes place on Saturday afternoons. Our home has been alive with visitors who have brought fresh perspectives and energy. My work outside the home is going well, we've recently obtained a big grant to expand some aspects of the work, I recently won a prize for my own work, and in general things are moving well.  There are hiccups and challenges that occur at unexpected moments, but by and large things are progressing. We are all in good health, and we have found some lovely routes to run or walk over some leafy hills near our house. On the surface of things, all is good.

So why do I just want to curl up and cry?
Why am I not looking forward to things the way I usually do?
Why do I have constant checklists in my mind of tasks that need to be done?
Why do I wake up at night remembering something that hasn't been done?
Why am I doubting whether any of this really has value?
Why do I feel as though anybody else could be doing a better job in all areas listed?

I realised that some of the symptoms I am feeling can be classified as 'burnout'. This is a term I have come across through my medical work, and as I re-read some helpful resources (for example here), I came to see that what I am feeling right now is quite classical.

What I found interesting was that many of the characteristics and personality traits that may be considered strengths are exactly those which may predispose a person to keep going for a bit too long. For example (see a full article from the US Christian Medical and Dental Association here)

  • You have a high tolerance to stress.” – Isn’t that a good thing?
  • You’re the emotional buffer.” – We call it supporting our patients, and it’s a skill we worked hard to perfect.
  • Your job constantly interferes with family events.” – Ok, we certainly don’t say aloud that this is a good thing. But haven’t you at least thought that someone’s request for time off was “weak,” especially during a busy season?
  • You lack control over your work schedule and free time.” – Of course we do. People can’t control when they get sick and need our services, can they?
  • You don’t take care of yourself.” – Once again, not explicitly encouraged…but we all spent at least 11 years (and some of you many more than that) subjecting our wants and needs to a long and gruelling training process through college, medical school and residency. Then we were overrun with patients whose needs were “more important” than ours. Who has time for massages, for goodness sake?
I think there are some other factors which might be involved, at least in my life. The first of these is:

PRIDE. It is actually quite difficult to say to somebody that you are struggling/ exhausted/ discouraged or whatever way you might wish to phrase it. There is no real reason why suddenly I am finding things a bit more difficult, and I can look around me and see many active, successful, vibrant people who are juggling similar lists of responsibilities. Why am I the one who is not coping? Is this not further evidence that I am inadequate? I don't want to admit that. 

However, the Bible makes abundantly clear that God brings many challenges into our lives to humble us. 

'Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything' James 1: 2-4

'Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us' Romans 5:1-5.

I gave a lengthy quotation from Romans, since I believe the context is key. Our hope is in Christ. It is ours by grace through faith. It is not of ourselves, we cannot boast, we cannot earn it. It is a passage that reminds us of our frail humanity in contrast to the amazing love of God. And I find that humbling and liberating!

Pride can also make us feel that  we are indispensible and that we cannot possibly stop or drop any of our responsibilities. 

COMMUNICATION. I find it quite difficult to express myself. I've written about that here. I can feel that I am telling people around me that I am tired or discouraged, but it is as though they do not hear or  do not know what I am trying to say. I can find that frustrating. Maybe I find it difficult to be completely honest and say things like, 'I really need some rest'.

LACK OF GRACE. Quoting Romans above, it is amazing to reflect on how our salvation, our lives, our ministry, our families, everything is all a gift from God.  Reading a helpful article from desiringgod.org, I found this quotation:

Although no two burnouts are the same, as I’ve counselled increasing numbers of Christians through burnout, I’ve noticed that most of them have one thing in common: there’s a deficit of grace. It’s not that they don’t believe in grace. Many of them are well-grounded in “the doctrines of grace.” Many of them are pastors and preach grace powerfully every week. The “five solas” and the “five points” are their theological meat and drink. Yet grace is missing in five vital areas. There are five disconnects between theological grace and their daily lives.

I would agree with that. There are times when I know the answers I would give others. There are times when I encourage others to do exactly the things which I find so hard to do in my own life. And yet, now I've hit a point where I feel something needs to change.

So, what is the solution? I am sure this is something I will return to in the weeks and months ahead, but  here are some of my initial thoughts:

1) Recognise that there may be a problem

2) Tell somebody about it, and take care not to expect others to be able to read your mind

3) Pray about it and rest in some of the amazing promises of God. Focus on His grace, and His compassion. Focus on your identity in Christ (as opposed to in the different roles you have in life)

4) Catch up on sleep before making any big decisions or really trying to unpick your situation. That is why I love the passage in 1 Kings 19. I know from my own life that often a couple of early nights or afternoon naps can make an amazing difference. And it IS possible to do this, if I communicate to those around me that it needs to be a priority. If you are the sort of person who stays up late and gets up before dawn, you cannot expect people around you to realise you need to have a short break from that unless you communicate!

5) Eat well. 1 Kings 19 again. I find it hard to eat enough when I am tired. Good fresh food makes a difference

6) Fresh air and exercise. But with the caveat that this should not become another 'task' - I've stopped running so much over the past week or two, in order to rest

7) Look at your responsibilities. What is an essential God-given responsibility, and what have you taken on in addition? I've read articles relating to burnout among Christian doctors and relating to burnout in Christian ministry which recommend such an approach. Maybe this can also be done with your spouse or with a close friend

8) Consider which things you find most draining. It was relatively recently I came to realise that my personality was introverted, whereas most people consider me an extrovert because I CAN keep talking and being outwardly confident in group settings. But I find it draining, and for relaxation would much rather be alone, reading, writing or walking. The element of life which may have tipped me from managing my responsibilities to feeling burnt out may have been having a very full home. It is a great blessing and a privilege, but I need to find ways to carve out space and peace in the midst of that (without having to stay up later and get up earlier in order to do so). For you, it may be something entirely different.

I am thankful that God brings a whole range of situations, both delightful and challenging into our lives. My prayer is that through this current challenge I can draw closer to Him, become more like Him and be able to use what I have learnt to bless others.

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