It’s been a strange couple of weeks.
It started three weeks ago. No, it actually started a long time ago but it was three weeks ago when I finally noticed something was wrong. I came home from the office on Friday afternoon without having been able to finish my sermon for the next day. People who know me well know that I take preaching very seriously. I think about them for weeks in advance and then I usually write them down on Mondays or Tuesdays. But that week I couldn’t do it. I knew I had to peach, I knew my sermon was only half-written but I could not make myself click on the right folder and the right document to get it finished. I printed it out as it was on Friday, without an ending. It was only on Saturday morning that I scribbled some concluding thoughts on the manuscript while eating breakfast. Needless to say that I wasn’t happy with my sermon that day.
There were other things - small things - which left a nagging feeling inside me, telling that something was wrong. But I couldn’t put my finger on it. I went to work every day, trying my best but not getting much done.
It was only last week when I picked up my courage and told I. I needed to have a chat with him. I suspected I might be having a burnout. Our conference office has become known as a place where people work hard. And this is how it ought to be. I like to be in the middle of all that action, and I usually enjoy working in the conference leadership team – departmental leaders meetings, AdCom, ExCom, the Churches Council, lectures, seminars this, that. The leadership team is young and energetic, things get done and energy flows. It’s a wonderful place to be. But the coin also has a darker side – that of overworking, of burnout, of anxiety, of pressure, of expectations. There are times when it is not easy to balance between the good and the bad. Then the ugly might happen – as it did last spring. I won’t tell you when I finally got off sleeping pills last year...
So I talked to I. about my symptoms. I didn’t know what to expect from him – he as the conference president works harder than any of us and I wasn’t sure how he’d take it. But what he said and what he drew my attention to was like a revelation. It was as if the truth was spoken into my life and the light bulb went on. You need to look at your tasks and choose which are the most important ones, he said, and let the other ones go. You need to take a critical look at your preaching schedule, you can’t be expected to accept all the preaching invites. You also need a church – a home church, a place where you could go every now and then without any obligations, where you can just receive (I must have looked like a huge question mark - I've lost the concept of a home church). And you need to be a part of a small group where you don’t need to teach not lead anything. Because, in the end of the day, you’re not just a theologian or a pastor, you’re a simple Christian and you need to take care of your own spiritual life.
And then it hit me. This is a spiritual burnout I’m experiencing.
Things started to make a lot of sense after I realised it. Everything that had happened suddenly had a context. Weird „I simply can’t do this” moments became logical. I’ve given out so much I’ve burnt out spiritually. I’ve drawn from the well until there’s only a couple of drops left in the bottom of my bucket.
I don’t quite know how to recover. I had another meeting with I. today where we went over my preaching schedule. Most of the preaching appointments I can’t cancel so some tough months are yet to come. But I’ve decided to reduce the workload and to cut some responsibilities that have been draining me over the past months. But on a deeper level I don’t know what I ought to do. There’s no medicine, no-one can prescribe me anti-spiritual-burnout pills. I guess it will be a difficult road ahead of me. A road where I have to say no to kind invites and initiatives, where I’m not always understood, where I need to fight my own spiritual fight. And I need to find a way how to receive more and give less, even if just for the time being.
I usually have a Bible study with two teenage girls every second Friday evening. I can’t do it tonight, I can’t pull it off. There would be some readily shaking their heads. Well, that’s how it is. Instead, I am reading a little bit from Anne Lamott’s Help. Thanks. Wow, then reading one Bible story and going out to the Old Town for a long evening walk. This is what I’m capable of. Tomorrow scares me, even though I do not have any ’platform duties’. I’m thinking about skipping the church’s business meeting in the afternoon and having a long walk instead although it might not be easy to sneak out after the service. We’ll see.
These days I try to convince Jesus He ought to come back right now. I’m tired and I’m tired and I wish all this was over.
Do say a prayer for me.