Burning Out

I have avoided blogging for quite some time.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not great at blogging, nor was I great at keeping a diary when I was younger, but I have intentionally refrained from blogging, tweeting and facebooking about church.

I burned out.

It started last May, when after dropping out of school to pursue church-work I approached my supervisor to discuss my employment situation. I was part time (15-20 hours, depending on the time of the year), and was solely responsible for the majority of communication at the largest Lutheran church in Austin, Texas. At that time, I was on fire for ministry, and I had a deep seeded passion to communicate the Gospel in the most creative ways possible. As it happened, budget season had rolled around, and my supervisor was in favor of transitioning me to full-time (with the understanding I would still work towards a degree).

After the last of the important budget meetings, I asked my supervisor what the decision was. I was told, “we couldn’t make room in the budget for you this time around. While we all agreed we would be sad to see you go, we understand if you can’t stay.” The conversation was much longer, of course, but the gist was “no.”

I was numb for quite a few months. In retrospect I can see where I was developing a bitterness in response to the hurt I felt from the rejection, but I still felt deep inside that I was where I was supposed to be, and doing what I was supposed to do.

I found quite a bit of comfort at the Echo Conference. There’s something therapeutic about being surrounded by people with similar thoughts and ideas about the Church. Even more, the Conclave Sessions were a fantastic experience that provided invaluable amounts of encouragement and ideas to bring back to my church. During the first night of Conclave, Gary Molander told his story of burning out, and I sat there in silent shock as I realized what he was talking about was eerily similar to where I was emotionally and spiritually. That night I pushed down my feelings and pretended I wasn’t feeling hurt or resentment, and allowed myself to take in the rest of my week (the last day of Conclave and the entirety of Echo).

By the end of the conferences, I was excited. I had ideas pouring out of me, and I even stayed up until the wee hours of the night working on different concepts to take back to my church. Upon presenting the ideas to my supervisor, I was told “this is great, Lauren, but remember you only work 20 hours!” That’s when everything inside of me broke. I began to feel under-appreciated, unmotivated, and inadequate to perform my job duties. I was lucky to have a mentor who poured into me during this period of time and was supportive of whatever decision I intended to make.

I carried around my resignation letter for 2 weeks in my purse, hoping there would be some magical moment telling me to stay, but it never came. I cried the entire time I sat in my supervisor’s office as he tried to comprehend what I was doing. The next two weeks were filled with coworkers consoling me and telling me not to leave. Most blamed other staff members, and others expected I’d change my mind before I left. I posted my job description knowing that half of what I did wasn’t on it, and knowing even then that no one with the talent necessary would take the job knowing it was part-time.

The entire month following my last day, I worked hard trying to find a new position. It’s hard to put yourself out there when you’re emotionally dead and your self-confidence was thrown out the window months prior. I did odd-jobs here and there, but nothing that replaced my previous position.

I hated graphic design, I hated communication, but mainly I hated myself. I had allowed myself to succumb to feeling inadequate for so long that I no longer knew what I wanted to do with my life. I questioned God’s intentions with everything, and I didn’t trust that I was going to be taken care of, because I didn’t feel I deserved to be taken care of. I felt guilty for losing the passion that had moved me just months before, and I thought God wouldn’t love me as much because I wasn’t as passionate as I once was for Him. There was a place in my heart that was dead, and as much as I tried to revive it, I couldn’t.

One month after leaving my church, they called me back and offered a full-time position. I should have been ecstatic, over-the-moon with happiness, but I wasn’t. I took the job because it felt like the right thing to do, and it was financially responsible, but there was still a part of me that was dead. I was still hurting.

How do you cure a complete burnout?

1. TALK. I cannot be more serious than I am right now. You need someone in your life that you can talk to. This person should (for obvious reasons) be unbiased in the situation. Finding a counselor or a mentor with your best interests at heart would be the best option, but you have to talk out your feelings. Bottling things inside doesn’t do anything but add pressure which leads to an explosion later.

2. Pray. Duh. Jesus knows what’s up.

3. Temporarily re-direct your focus (AKA the “hobby”). This one was actually pretty difficult for me. When people ask what I like to do for fun, I tell them “graphic design in my spare time”, because my spare time is usually spent on side projects (freelance). I know I’m young, but it was difficult for me to intentionally set aside time to do things other than work, or think about work. Luckily, I have a fantastic support group that I live with who also happen to LOVE to paint canvases. Therapy for my creative soul.

4. Assess your situation often. One of the most important things I did upon returning was to stop and look at where I was. Stress causes us to become focused solely on the task at hand. Good for productivity, bad for mental and emotional health. I take short, frequent mental breaks to assess myself and my workload. If adjustment is needed, I take care of it. Becoming overwhelmed is a sure sign you’re not assessing your situation and evaluating your workload.

5. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. Multiple blogs, books, and tweets have been written about the art of setting boundaries.  I, myself, am no master of setting reasonable boundaries. I’m an unmarried college-age student with a demanding full-time job. I’m hardwired to stay up until 3am for no good reason, what else am I supposed to do with my time? Plus, thinking that “no” in church-work limits Jesus is crazy. It’s crazy. Jesus is bigger than your ability to design a business card specifically for the “Frail Ol’ Church Ladies” group. What needs to get done WILL get done, even if you’re not the one to do it.

It gets easier, but even now I’m not sure if burnout is totally reversible. Know your limits, and know there are people who love and support you no matter what.

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