People suffering burnout often mistakenly think their emotional and spiritual wounds are the sign of holy brokenness.
In their despair, they become soothed by God’s love in their woundedness. But that’s not brokenness. In true brokenness, we find not only new life, but sometimes literally a new life.
Where there’s true brokenness, there’s change and transformation at the core of who we are (if we are willing to meet God there). We become fundamentally different people.
Too many leaders – including church leaders – in their pride think that wounding is their badge of brokenness, but it’s not! It’s just hurt. Brokenness, however, brings new life – if we let it.
Over the last five years, God keeps bringing me alongside burned-out and wounded leaders. No one knows about it as I quietly walk behind the scenes with them through their woundedness into brokenness and then new life. Usually this process takes years.
Because I too suffered total burnout in my own life, and finally emerged as a very different man following several years of transformation and renewal, I find I can now help others understand and navigate the very recognizable steps of their own recovery.
My own journey was painful.
I was heading up a dynamic international law firm and several successful businesses I had started.
Between burnout and chronic fatigue from an autoimmune condition called scleroderma (systemic sclerosis), I simply could not function anymore in a way that was faithful to my responsibilities. Those who worked for me deserved someone they could depend on to lead the firms, and I couldn’t meet that standard any more.
Fortunately, I had enough integrity to step down – both for my own good and for the good of my clients and colleagues.
Among attorneys we had a joke that said: “The key to success in the law is sincerity, and if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
Maybe I could have faked it for awhile as I struggled with my own burnout in the business world, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to work too well with folks in ministry.
The turning point for me, and with most who hit burnout, was when I became so emotionally depleted of energy and life that I didn’t care any more. It was hard, but I started finding healing at that point – I hit bottom and decided to get out of the situations that were draining me. I then started being totally transparent and honest and accepting help from others.
When that happened, I was unable to fight God, or the circumstances of my life, any more. I no longer was able to pridefully hold onto all I thought I was or all I thought I had accomplished. I finally was able to totally, fully surrender to God’s love and mercy, and then let him begin to re-build me as he always wanted me to be.
I also was able to let God sovereignly strip away all the obligations, activities and “things” that I had accumulated in my life. All of those “oughts” had sucked the life out of me because they were rooted in my own strength and pride.
It is nearly impossible for a leader to get to brokenness until he or she comes to a point of total exhaustion and just doesn’t care anymore. Until then, they fight their own fatigue and hurts, which only leads to more fatigue and hurt. And so the downward spiral continues until there is nothing left – and that’s the place where God has been waiting for them to finally meet him.
It’s there that they finally find brokenness, because that’s were the one remaining thing of themselves that they’ve been holding onto – which is pride – gets stripped away.
Some never get to brokenness because in their pride they want to hold onto their hurt.
Those who find total surrender at brokenness, however, will slowly begin climbing out of their deep well of emptiness to begin a new, God-directed journey.
In that journey, they will begin to learn and finally do those things that recharge their emotional and spiritual batteries – even when those things are not super “spiritual” or part of their previous life’s agenda. As they find renewal, God starts to remake their lives as he intended them to be. Instead of a downward spiral of exhaustion and fatigue, now there is an upward spiral of life renewing life.
Sometimes when confronted with the need for breaking and totally surrendering everything to God – including his or her ministry or position – a wounded leader will re-double their efforts to “lead” and become “engaged”. Often this is their last gasp attempt to assure themselves and their people that they still “have it”.
What they don’t see is that God is not interested in whether they still “have it”, and is looking to strip all that away so he can rebuild them after his own image and likeness.
Typically, this final phase of re-doubled effort will last several months, but it is not sustainable because it still is coming from their own, ever-depleting strength. But that’s OK, because it gets them to total exhaustion, and thus brokenness, all the quicker. And from there, the journey to new life can finally begin.
If you are a wounded leader, and dealing with the years of accumulated hurt, fatigue and exhaustion that ministry often heaps on us as we function in our own strength, I invite you to brokenness. Embrace the process and stop fighting.
Surrender and give up all rights to your own ministry and your own position and your own crippling pride – including your own expectations of who you will be or what you may do after God renews and re-makes you.
Give it all up, and surrender totally and fully to God’s desire to remake you – not as an effective pastor or leader, but simply as a whole and complete person. From there, his plans for the rest of your life will start to become clear, and they will bring life rather than weariness.
Getting to brokenness will be painful, but the outcome will be life as God fully intended you to live it.
Recharging your emotional and spiritual batteries likely will take several years after you hit total brokenness, but this is your only hope. Otherwise, your sole prospect is to become ever more emotionally crippled, with eventual death.
Choose life, but understand that it will require true brokenness with total surrender of all you are, all you have become, and all you think you should be. Only then can God meet you at the deepest core of your life – where that knot of fatigue, anxiety, hurt, exhaustion and feeling trapped currently resides in the pit of your stomach – and transform you into the man or woman he created you to really be.
You know when you’ve gotten to the total surrender of brokenness when you no longer care about whether you are restored to ministry or not.
Maybe God will restore “your” ministry (but it no longer will be “yours”), and maybe he won’t.
Although it seems hard to believe while you are still in woundedness, on the other side of brokenness you will find such authentic joy and ongoing renewal – perhaps for the first time in your life – that you simply won’t be able to imagine being or doing anything other than who God made you to really be and do. And all preconditions and expectations of specific outcome disappear.
It’s a wonderful place of freedom when you can be and do those things that God ordained for you from the beginning of time, rather than being and doing all of the “oughts” that you have imposed on yourself.
~ Jim Wright