A Healing from Burnout

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

  • Psalm 121:1-8

“As I entered into my fifties and was able to realize the unlikelihood of doubling my years, I came face to face with the simple question, ‘Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?’  After twenty-five years of priesthood.  I found myself praying poorly, living somewhat isolated from other people, and very much preoccupied with burning issues.  … something inside was telling me that my success was putting my own soul in danger. … I woke up one day with the realization that I was living in a very dark place and that the term ‘burnout’ was a convenient psychological translation for a spiritual death.”

  • Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus, as quoted by Charles R. Swindoll in The Finishing Touch

In the Swindoll devotion, Rev. Swindoll states that Nouwen’s resume, up to that point, included Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard.  It is hard to imagine someone with such success to feel totally unsuccessful.  Yet, Nouwen prayed that God would guide him, and he made a special request, that God would not be vague in His guidance.  Nouwen wrote, “God said, ‘Go and live among the poor in spirit, and they will heal you.’”  Nouwen left his position and went to the L’Arche communities for mentally handicapped people.

Nouwen made a bold move, one that most of us would dare not make.  He left prestige, power, and influence to live among the poor.  But what did he gain?  Everything that he’d found lacking in his life to that point.

Do we need the poor in spirit to visit us, so that we might be healed?

This Nouwen quote touched on a few things that I have been thinking about lately: counterfeit gods and how to rid them, more effective prayer, finding success, being a friend to others before I find that I have no friends.  I could mention more, as this short confession from Nouwen showed something within me that has not been as good as it could have been.  I talk of being more like Jesus, but as I examine myself, I find where I could have done something better, anything better, everything better.  I find myself going through the motions with prayer, as Nouwen suggests.  Maybe that is due to fatigue, but is it more due to distraction?  The enemy loves to distract, cause us to feel guilt over something that God has forgiven us of years ago.  And guilt is only one arrow in the enemy’s quiver.  There are also arrows for each of the temptations to do something wrong or simply less than our best – those temptations leading to the distractions over guilt for having failed in denying the temptations.  And of course, there are arrows for legalism and perfectionism.

You know, maybe Nouwen has a great idea, or rather God gave him the idea.  Reach out to help those less fortunate.  In doing so, they will heal you.  Whatever holds us back from letting go and letting God take over… That is often not found in the ones who can’t repay the kindness that we might show, and the gratitude and love in their eyes can heal us by showing us what is missing in our lives.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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