Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Through Burnout and Back: Taking Time, Really

Back in the days of seminary, they warned us, "You will have weeks where you have to work 60 hours or so.  Take time off to recuperate."

In my Bowen Family Systems class, they have repeatedly told us, "If you have to work on your day off, take another day the following week."

I thought I had been doing a pretty good job of such things until I hit burnout.  Then, I discovered I really hadn't been doing what I had been taught to do. 

Of course, I made excuses:

"Oh, it's just a couple of minutes I'm having to spend on this.  It's no big deal."

"Well, I really need to get this done.  It can't wait another day."

"These folks really, really need a visit.  I've got to get it done."

And so I pushed it.  Oftentimes too far.  I made funeral preparations and worked on funeral sermons during vacations.  I took moments on my day off to open up buildings and field phone calls and text messages.  I would take a day from vacation to conduct a graveside service.  All of it added up, and the sad part is, I didn't really realize it.

So, when I hit that wall of burnout, I resolved to take back my time, really.  And I discovered a couple of things:

1. It's very good physically, mentally, and spiritually to do just that.

2. It's very hard to break something you've started.

3. Guilt will rear its ugly head.

Last week, I worked close to 60 hours handling a Bible Camp, a member's funeral, our Scholarship Committee's dance and fundraiser, confirmation, and the parties which ensued.  It was a very, very long week emotionally and physically.

So, what did I do about it?

Well, my children didn't start school until today.  Yesterday was their last day of summer, and because I worked so many hours the previous week, I claimed my time.  I didn't go to the office at all yesterday: I spent the time with my family and had one final fling before school started.

We had promised them we would take them to see the Disney movie, "Brave."  Mission finally accomplished.

We've started reading them Bible stories each evening out of The Action Bible.   Now, the kids want to read (or at the very least look at the pictures) even after we finished.  We only had one Bible.  Problem is now solved.  We ate at Chick-Fil-A, and the kids had a great time on the indoor playground.  We shopped around for back to school clothes but really found nothing to add to their wardrobes.  We ended up eating at a nice Italian food place (where kids eat free on Mondays and Tuesdays) for the evening meal.  All in all, it was a great day with the family.

Were there things that I could have been doing at the office?  Yep.

Were there people who needed to be seen?  Yep.

Were there people who needed to be checked on?  Yep.

Were there things at the office which needed checking up on?  Yes, as well.

But in 12 years of ordained ministry, I have finally let it sink in:  There will always be those things which need doing.  There are always folks who need a call or a visit or what have you.  And when you have quite a few people in your congregation, there is not enough of you to go around.  You've got to do what you can and leave the rest for another day.

For someone like myself who has usually prided himself in his ability to go above and beyond the call of duty, this is a very difficult step.  It's literally made me have to change my nature and change how I approach things. 

But will it be worth it?

I think so.  I need my family and personal time--for my sanity and theirs.  Really.

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