A question. What are you…afraid of?
Fear has this way of flaying us open, I think. Of laying bare what we see as bigger than us.
Worry manifests itself in vastly different ways. Some of us, for example, seek to staunch this bleeding of our hearts with intense control or safety. That is to alternatively say, some of us who struggle most with control actually are waging an inner battle with fear. As counselor and neuropsychologist Ed Welch writes, “One message is obvious: ‘If I imagine the worst, I will be prepared for it.’ Worry is looking for control….Worry has become your talisman to ward off future catastrophe.”
Yesterday was one of those days when I felt like I was walking against the wind so much of the day: straining uphill, my too-thin sweater tugged around me as I grimaced, head down. As my husband and I lifted down plates for dinner, I recounted the parts that made me want to tear my hair out. (Or maybe a small tuft of my children’s. …Joking.) In the course of things, I did remember some good points. Somehow, as I relayed them, they grew a little. I tucked my head with a smile.
He put his hands on my shoulder, leveled his hazel eyes with my blue ones. “I want you to know,” he said, “that you are incredibly blessed.”
Somehow, those words triggered that out-of-body sort of viewpoint I needed, to survey my life not from the perspective of loss, but of gain. Of beauty. Incredibly blessed?
Oh, yeah. Yeah. I am.
Missed Part I? First, grab it here.
When you felt like you were finally surfacing from burnout–or as I called it, tired-mad, I might tell you what I found out. That sometimes burnout is simply burnout, because life is hard. And even though God never gives us more than He’ll give us strength to handle (He says so here and here), it still can feel like a rightful scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel, ta-da-I-survived type thing. (Whether it’s godly or not to be burned out is another post for another time, perhaps. But pretending it’s not there doesn’t really help.)
Questions that may help as you process burnout
- How have my responsibilities challenged me? How have they changed me?
- What activities “give me life” after I’ve helped someone?
- Who do I feel comfortable debriefing with?
- What questions do I find myself asking—and what lies am I tempted to believe (“I’m the only one who can help.” “I can’t afford to rest.” “Jesus wouldn’t say no here”)—when I am burdened by helping someone?
- In what Scriptures do I find hope and comfort when I am helping someone? (I like Isaiah 55:1-3.)
- (One of my favorites:) What would a compassionate friend say to me about this? (I often afford more compassion to others than I do to myself.)
- What sense of purpose and meaning do I find in my work? What do I love about what I do?
- What do I do when I am not handling stress well? What does the “stressed” version of me look like?
- What methods, people, and practices have helped me in the past?
- What do I think God thinks about my work?
- What questions do I have for God because of my work?
I glimpsed it in the slight tightness, the fatigued determination of her face that day: that distinct weariness that comes from herding toddlers and preschoolers 24/7. Having worn that particular look for approximately eight years myself, I know it well.
And though there are few exhaustions like young-mom exhaustion—I felt my own version of tired-mad that week. (Um. My family may have felt it, too.) One of my favorite takeaways from the movie Home were those hybrid-emotions, like sad-mad. Anger is a secondary emotion anyway, right? We feel angry usually because we were first hurt; afraid; grieved. Depleted, taken for granted; so very tired. So I have to plunge my fingers into my anger, exploring a bit.
We weren’t clearly “called” to Africa. That I know of.
Maybe God will correct my thinking in the future. But there my husband and I were in Little Rock, with four little kids (youngest two and a half), contemplating whether or not to, you know, sell 70% of our stuff and wheel our bags to a continent I was sure was just buzzing with malaria and typhoid. I say that—but honestly, I was thrilled. Africa is a dream come true, one I’d put on the shelf in the “maybe God will explain why” category of my mental Dewey decimal system. And as we discussed it, I don’t think I’ll forget what my husband said one night.
Author’s note: It was two years ago that our family received unsettling news that began an extended holding pattern for us, news which wouldn’t be resolved for another eleven months. That period of gray, unsettled twilight will stand out in my life as one where I became well-acquainted–more than I would have wished, for sure–with the chisel of God that is waiting.
Yet in an odd way, it also brought me to love its sculpting edges, planing away curls of my own impatience and distrust.