Burnout. According to Wikipedia, it is “the experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest” that has been recognized in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th revision, as “problems related to life-management difficulty” and is marked by “exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy” in the Maslach Burnout Inventory. The article talks about emotional exhaustion and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment as being key factors in burnout. There are implications that workaholism contributes significantly to it as well. For those in any form of ministry or caring profession, add compassion fatigue to the list (and adding to the emotional exhaustion), and you almost have a perfect storm.
Usually I know I am circling the edges of burnout when I start being persistently late to everything, no matter what – no matter what time I get up, no matter how much sleep I’ve gotten the previous night, no matter how excited I am to be wherever I am supposed to be going. I am still engaged and trying to stay engaged, but having to work harder to stay that way. And I am always tired. Always. Exhaustion, check.
Last week, I told a story that I heard from a nurse on the surgical ICU to two different groups of people. All the chaplains laughed; the long-time chaplains laughed harder. All the non-chaplains sat mostly in uncomfortable silence. Gallows humor, check. Cynicism, check.
This week, I have discovered a new low: walking out the door having forgotten some key thing(s) for the day. Sunday, I walked out without the Bible; I teach Sunday Bible study, and was preaching that day. Monday, I walked out without my work ID and keys; I need my ID to clock in and to get on floors to see patients, and I need my keys to get in to any room in the department, including my office. Tuesday, I almost walked out without my entire purse, got that, almost walked out without my ID again, got it, then almost walked out without my iPhone, but managed to remember and get that, too. Did I have three bags in my arms, and four other things in my hands as I left for work this morning? Yes. Did it look like I was having trouble managing my life in the five minutes I was trying to leave home? Yes. Inefficacy, BIG CHECK.
Not keeping the Sabbath well got me here. And it seems to me that keeping the Sabbath is kind of like taking hypertension medicine. As a stroke center chaplain, how many times have I told patients and families, “A lot of people think that they can just take the medicine when they start feeling bad, but once you get on high blood pressure medicine, you have to keep taking it, even when you feel fine”? Countless, because it’s true. As true as it is for keeping the Sabbath. A lot of people think that they can just take Sabbath/vacation/time off when they start feeling bad, but you have to keep taking it, even when you feel fine. Otherwise, you get to be like me, forgetting your keys and being inefficacious. And cynical. And exhausted. And having your mind and body disengage on your behalf. Rehab/Recovery is a long and hard road.
“Energy, involvement, and efficacy,” otherwise summarized as “engagement” is what Wikipedia gives as the opposite of burnout. As part of my ordination vows in the PC(USA), I promised that I would “seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.” You see the problem here.
So, I continue the journey, the learning, the growing in what it means to keep the Sabbath holy, not because it’s just a rule that I have to keep, but because it’s like hypertension medicine. It helps me not get to the inefficacy of forgetting my keys.
But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore, the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. – Exodus 20:10-11