Burnout and Soul Restoration

As a high school senior in a Christian school, I was privileged to be part of an award winning, close-knit Chorus. At the beginning of the school year, we dreamed with our director about an international competition in Hawaii. What Alabama kid is going to say no to Hawaii?? We had many obstacles: the expense, picking great songs, parental consent… but halfway through the school year, halfway through our preparation, our director’s husband became very ill.

Most students would fold with sorrow and defeat. Instead, our chorus worked tirelessly with an almost entirely student-led leadership and non-musical substitute teachers. The goal – our returning teacher would not be stepping back into a quitting chorus, but one who triumphed to display the mantra: work hard, believe in your dreams, and never give up.

While everyone did an excruciating amount of preparation and work, the burden of leadership still willingly fell on a select few, including myself. Hours and hours were spent teaching parts, memorizing words, and working on dynamics. Fundraising, publicity, and teamwork became the responsibility of parents and children. No other time in my life compared to the pressure I put on myself to do whatever it took for us to succeed.

As spring break approached, our chorus was ready for mixed choir, boys’ choir, girls’ choir, and mixed ensemble performances, each ready with three challenging songs. We were poised for international competition, and our director returned overwhelmed at our level of commitment and preparedness.

The week in Hawaii could fill up boundless blog pages, but the main event was center stage. Choruses from all over the world joined together in a multitude of languages and cultures – perhaps my mind’s first picture of heaven. Our mixed chorus boldly took the stage, singing songs as flawlessly as any teenagers ever. We won a gold medal! The boys chorus returned to the stage vocalizing some of the most beautiful numbers ever heard. Gold again! The 12-voice ensemble blended in and out of 4-and-6-part harmony effortlessly. Another gold! The girls took the stage, and with only 3 first sopranos in this group (and I being one), it happened…

Undoubtedly confident of our melody part to all three songs, I none-the-less stood in shock and dismay as I forgot every word to the last of three songs. My puzzled director eye-balled me sympathetically, but I was unable to regain the lyrics. The pressure had reached me. There were no tears. There was…nothing. Burnout had consumed me. We won silver.

It would not be the last time I experienced burnout, since my husband and I have experienced it personally, in ministry, and on the mission field. As an Autism mom familiar with burnout, I have identified three ways to recognize it in the hopes it will help myself and others take steps towards soul restoration.

  1. Burnout causes decreased desire for God’s Word. Exhaustion, boredom, and numbness makes sifting through the pages of scripture dreadful. Praying to hear God’s voice through the Bible is counter-intuitive when your heart is cold. Doubtful thoughts lead you away from the Word, making it harder to humble yourself under His instruction and easier to self-soothe with familiar, but unfulfilling, ways.
  2. Burnout causes you to identify opportunities as problems. In jobs, the boss is the problem. In church, your pastors, those leaders, or certain members become the problem. In Autism, instead of purely helping my son, I saw him in opposition. When I was trying to do my job, he was in the way. When I was trying to grow friendships, he was making it difficult. When I wanted to hear the sermon in church, he was a disruption. Where I had once seen the opportunity to serve and share Christ with him, I was constantly fighting the internal voice that said, he is the problem.
  3. Burnout causes you to prefer isolation. As an introverted mom of three children, seclusion is a limited comfort. It is not a big leap for me to long for solitude, quiet, and alone-ness. Isolation is different though. Proverbs 18:1 (ESV) says, “He who isolates himself seeks his own desire, and breaks out against all sound judgment.” The purpose of isolation is not to recover from sadness or to gain perspective. Isolation is the selfish desire to protect yourself from others speaking into your life what needs to be said – proving how important it is to journey through life with caring, truth-telling believers! We need one another, especially when our natural inclination is to lash out against such intimacy and investment in each other.

Burnout will happen from time to time. Sometimes the music is there, but the words are not. God cares for us and desires to bring us out of burnout. Seek the counsel and encouragement of other believers, read the Word even when it seems futile, and pray through the doubt and darkness.

Isaiah 40:31 (NKJV), Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint.

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