Today’s talk on Sabbath & Burnout was not new; it is a talk I give every year, and it is completely necessary. After the service I sat in circles and listened to stories of people burning / burned out by life, work, circumstance and so on. It was tragic. The overwhelming sense I had as I pronounced the closing benediction was God saying, STOP. TAKE A DAY OFF. – and that’s exactly what I said. There is a way to burn for God, or for work, what we do, our passions in life. And then there is also a thing called foolish burning. Many times I find that we are our own enemy; the unstoppable drive is like a tank, bulldozing over our own health, our relationships, our well-being.
So I’m re-posting these thoughts below about burnout and depression; mind you, depression is not always emotional; I believe there are also physical depressions (a depressed body or a depressed immune system), spiritual depressions. And I think these thoughts below, posted from my years in seminary, are very instructive and helpful…
February 19, 2009
Darrell Johnson gave a stirring talk on depression among the clergy today – and personally I think he should blog. So I transcribed some notes and reflections – from my own experience mingled with some of the theologies he presents concerning this “shame-based killer”. I’ve come to see depression among the clergy as a form of self-martyrdom – an unholy dying (in some cases, not all) – because it is often at our own hands, and before the idols of our own hero-worship (ourselves). More thoughts here:
Depression is symbiotic.It is never exclusively an inside-the-skull thing, Dr. Packer talks about the three-ness of human being; body, mind, & spirit (he doesn’t hold to the soul/spirit bifurcation). When depression hits, it is so often on all three fronts @ the same time, even though we can’t see it right away. For me the formula was like this:
Body – deteriorating health / not taking care of how I eat, sleep & exercise / unhealthy rhythms (or no rhythms at all)
Mind – continually denying myself and depriving myself of my inner-most needs and joys. This is a form of self-induced schizophrenia.
Spirit – not having a clue as to what I was made for, what I was called to, how I was designed. What a shame that this is so epidemic.
Depression is intense. I’ll never forget those plunges I first felt sitting on the 7 train on the way home working in NYC, exhausted. It sucked, quite literally.
Depression comes about by Great Expectations – Darrell’s insight here – we think we are more than we are – saints – in the hagiographical sense. The problem begins not in our striving to be great but rather in our idolizing; thus the original sin is placing human beings on pedestals and trying to attain these impossibly high notions of greatness.
Depression can come from “sedentary habits” – DJ cites Spurgeon here. I’m still guilty of this. Hoping between semesters to lose some pounds and get back in shape. Hold me to this.
Depression is better prevented, not cured. We’re better off pre-empting this killer than trying to deal with it at its height. No one likes having their hard drive crash only to be survived by that one, lone, blinking light of the will.
Depression is treated by “pacing” – this is me. Actually I get this from a quote from OM founder George Verwer who says that “burning for Christ” is a good thing – but we are to burn as coal – long and deep – and not like petrol – which flares up like a flash in the pan and fizzles out fairly quick.
A moving story of depression – as told by Gerry Sitzer, A Grace Disguised. DJ recommends this book by a prof @ Whitworth in Spokane who witnessed the deaths of his mother, wife and daughter in a split second. Moving story.
Anyways. My thoughts. Does this sound familiar to u?
11 thoughts on “How Do You Sabbath, Sabbatical, Rest, Play, Refuel, Re-energize?”
Everyone has depression. Nobody is immune to it. Pastors, ministers, and evangelists are people just like you and me. They’re subject to any and all problems any ‘non-clergy’ person might be. People need to stop putting them on a pedestal.
Oh by the way, here’s my new blog:http://theriverjordan/net/stop-fighting
I think Jordan is right. One thing that’s always fascinated me is the depiction of depression in the Old Testament, with David and Elijah in particular. Psalms contains some graphic depictions of depression that truly hit home.
I would also say that the three-fold aspect of depression is true, and I think all 3-mind, body, spirit-feed one another. The fact that the body is sometimes at the root of depression is why I think medication can be a very good thing, at times, but physical maladies are not always the root cause.
Depression is a reality (which I’ve written about) which affects pastors like anyone, but I believe it is a spiritual discipline to resist the things which lead to or exacerbate depression
Wayne, could you provide a little more definition of what you mean by depression? I’m thinking that the kind you’re talking about is not the kind – contrary to Jordan’s assertion – that “everyone” has.
I think the experience I talk about above is more than just the blues, it is an oppressive weight from which one is incapable of coming out from under without help in all three areas mentioned – physical, mental, spiritual. It sure didn’t feel normal or common to me at all. Something serious was happening at the time – and it was really bad.
But I think I understand what you’re trying to say Jordan.
I’ve got some first hand experience with this issue.
I think we should be very careful in our assessment of depression. It is a medical condition that can be medically diagnosed. Telling somebody who suffers from medical depression to “resist the enemy” or to think positive thoughts or to pray harder is just like telling somebody who’s diabetic that they can will their bodies to respond properly to ingested sugars.
The Christian church has a serious blind spot in the case of mental illnesses, and we often do a great disservice to members of our body by telling them that they’re simply not trying hard enough to be happy.
I think much of what we’re discussing in this thread isn’t clinical depression but what the desert fathers called acedia, or what we might call ‘the blues’ or ‘being down in the dumps’, or perhaps even grief over transitions in life.
I’ve had some thoughts about this recently.
There’s been lots of talk about depression @ school lately, as if it’s some rite of passage for all persons of the cloth. Some people wonder if they’ve gone through it at all, others wait pensively for it, as if once you become a pastor you’re going to get piledrived by a speeding truck called depression. But I don’t think it happens to everyone. To date, my wife has never had the experience in 33 yrs. No wonder. She’s one of the most healthiest emotional people I know.
My feelings on this; you’ll KNOW if it’s real (clinical) depression. It’s that terrible of an experience. If you have any doubts, then it’s probably not depression (at least in the clinical sense). In this case acedia might be the proper term. If you’ve never felt the experience of being plowed over by the 18-wheeler semi, day after day, morning after morning, consider yourself blessed. And don’t somehow long for the experience just because others have gone through it.
You need not fear depression. I think that’s one of the factors that makes it worse, the fear that I’m abnormal, or unstable, or weak. I found fear not only led to, but perpetuated my intense experience in 1999. It was the worst feeling, but at the same time one of the best things that happened to me. It was as if everything that needed to change was spelled out for me. I needed to live differently, needed to eat differently, exercise – all these things hit me with a forceful realization I would’ve ignored any other time of my life. In that sense it was such a blessing. My body/mind/spirit was speaking loud and clear.
So in retrospect it was such a time of clarity, and living faithfully, simply, one day at a time. Isn’t that exactly the pace we need for sanity today?
what a gem:
“The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals… which neither the Romans or Germans were able to burn” – Abraham Heschel
i totally agree with the fact that depression comes about by great expectation… m hopin you could tell a bit more about how to prevent depression and how can it be treated by pacing …
depression is a psychosomatic experience, where all aspects of humanity have to be addressed in order to maintain self care / awareness and to prevent depression;
1. physicality of the body – depression has a direct correlation to our physical health, weight, constitution, eating habits, sedentary lifestyle, the breathing of the lungs, the beating of the heart, the life-force within us – all of these areas are symbiotically connected.
2. emotional life – issues of denial, rejection, relational interactions, family life, upbringing, worldviews, faulty and otherwise; there are a myriad of complexities here to address that do need to be worked out – I am emphatic about this.
3. spirituality – this is a component I am convinced plays an integral part uniquely apart from the above emotional dimensions; counselors are very helpful IMO, but are not always equipped to deal with the deepest soul dimensions of our searchings, yearnings, and callings.
“Pacing” involves a growing self-awareness, not only to the above, but also as an individual person. It may take finding help from a counselor, spiritual director, or minister, who can walk you outside of yourself to growing self-discovery.