Monday, February 11, 2013

Through Burnout and Back: Knowing Your Limitations; A Reflection on Pope Benedict XVI's Retirement

I awoke this morning to find the headline on the Drudge Report: Steps Aside.  There was a picture of Pope Benedict XVI walking away from something.  In this case, Matt Drudge wanted to give the imagery of walking away from the papacy.

In the article, Pope Benedict says he is stepping down because he is essentially too old and in too poor of health to handle the job.

Now, I am sure someone out there will begin circulating conspiracy theories about the "real" reasons the Pope stepped down.  I'm sure someone will try to link a whole bunch of circumstantial evidence a la Dan Brown to prove the Pope has lost his faith and discovered that Jesus was married and had several children.  (O.K., my Roman Catholic brethren and sisteren, if you cannot recognize sarcasm when you see it, please know, I will save you from embarrassment by moderating your comments and making sure they do not see the light of day.) 

For yours truly, the admiration I feel for Pope Benedict has skyrocketed immensely.

There is something within many of us clergy that pushes us to exceed the limits of our physical, emotional, and spiritual selves.  There is something within us that is always willing to go the extra mile no matter the cost to our bodies, our families, our friendships, and even our congregations.  Oftentimes, this leads us to burnout...or worse.

My readers know my struggles with burnout chronicled in this blog last year with the titles: Through Burnout and Back.  There are many lessons I have learned in that experience, and not the least of those is to recognize my own limitations.  I had to learn that I cannot do everything, and now, I simply won't do everything.  I set limits on what I do and how I operate at my job--even though the demand is there to do more.

Demand is one thing.  Being faithful is another.  If I cannot function because I am physically, emotionally, and spiritually spent, I am not helpful to my congregation or to my family or to anyone.  If I cannot think properly because of fatigue or if I am overwhelmed by emotions, I cannot make reasonable decisions.  If I cannot function at a healthy level, not only will I hurt myself, but I will drag my congregation down with me.

I have heard some folks say that "you functioning at 50% is better than you being gone."  But I disagree.  Look at sports teams where an athlete is only functioning at 50%.  The opposing team focuses on that weakness, and exploits it.  If it's football, they run or pass at the hurt athlete running that person ragged until he drops.  In basketball, you run isolation plays to exploit the weakness.  Whenever a member of the team is functioning well below capability, it's time for the coach to take that person out and put in a replacement who functions at 100% until the starter gets well.  That's the reality of how things should work in the sporting world.

And what happens if it doesn't?  What happens to athletes who coaches and others give medications to so that they can overcome their pain?  What happens to athletes who push themselves when their knees are weak or harmed?  Ask Robert Griffin III.  Either RGIII or Coach Shanahan should have taken him out of the game when he was limping around, not functioning at 100%.  Because neither the coach or the player would realize his limitations, RGIII's suffered a devastating knee injury.  Hopefully he will recover and be able to return to his amazing football prowess, and hopefully he and his coach will learn a lesson.

Which brings me back to Pope Benedict.  This man realized his limitations.  He realized he did not have the capability to function at 100% in the job he was called to do.  Rather than hurt himself; rather than hurt the Church; rather than push himself to an early grave, he stepped down.  He knew that someone with more energy and strength was needed. 

My hat is off to you, Pope Benedict XVI.

I wish I would have learned that lesson earlier, but rest assured, I know it now.  Thank you for providing an example to all of us to know our limitations and know when to let go.

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