Restoring from Physical Burnout
FINALS WEEK APPROACHES, and after four years and eight finals weeks I know how busy the last four weeks of the college semester can get. Real life is not much different, there are reports due, Christmas Parties to attend, travel arrangements to make and general holiday busyness that tends to steal our time, keep us running around and extremely stressed. This time of year can be even more stressful for abusive victims. Not because of memories or added trauma but because of the mindset and almost constant state of self-inflicted stress that most victims of abuse put themselves under.
For example: A College student who is a victim of church abuse will add pressure to himself to succeed. This pressure does not come from the professor but is a form of internal pressure added by the individual who was told the best thing he could do was “Please his leader.” This student may have come from a Confession Cult or have been subjected to a leader who was a Mystical Manipulator. Either way he now feels the need to please those in authority so he adds pressure to make a good grade. What happens is this, in his frenzy to study he adds stress, this stress makes focusing harder, he then does not study and ends up vocally degrading himself because this act of studying was unaccomplished. This cycle will continue as he heaps stress upon himself until one of two things happens, his body shuts down or he gets sick and has to force himself to stop.
This is called physical burnout, and it is a result of layers upon layers of stress added either by busy schedules or our own mental states. You see this more often in “Demand for Purity” groups that teach one must “Never Rest” to be a good Christian. However it manifests itself in those who simply lead lives that are above what their physical bodies can handle. Again, like the college student involved in too many activities, who puts everything on their shoulders and then tries to study. Then does not seem to understand why they get sick or why they have anxiety attacks or sleep for twenty-four hours once a month or once every two months.
As leaders in Ministry we are responsible for the spiritual health of those following us. We should also play a part in encouraging good and healthy mental and physical habits as well. We have talked in the past about helping to encourage good mental and spiritual health through spiritual disciplines and not over loading or demanding too much of those who are entrusted to us, but how do we encourage good physical health as well? More importantly what do we do when we encounter someone who already goes through routine physical burn-out cycles?
It is important to discover the root of the problem. If an employee has worked for an abusive or overbearing employer or worked in a “Demand for Purity” Cult then it is possible that they have served or worked for what I have called in the past “Cowboys” who drive the flock. Emphasizing and maintaining a slower environment will be important, but you may also need to seek some form of counseling depending on the exposure. A victim of non-church abuse (though all types are found in churches) may experience these burn-out cycles because of issues that they do not wish to address.
For example: Some victims of physical abuse have a hard time clearing their minds and just being quiet due to the fact that when they do they remember or mentally relive the trauma. This makes spiritual development extremely difficult because the deeper issue may be un-forgiveness or a failure to believe that one is redeemed. All we as leaders can do is encourage growth, give direction and encourage. Sadly, this person may not be ready for ministry and may need to see a Christian Counselor. However it is possible for a leader who has no formal training to encourage and lead an abusive victim to spiritual growth. Again, do not be afraid to ask for help, find someone who is trained to deal with these specific issues. Encourage forgiveness, encourage spiritual growth but do not force it. It is important to be encouraging and affirming when rebuilding a person’s life, too much exhortation without encouragement does more harm than good. Again, this inability to quiet ones mind adds stress to the body because the person never wants to be calm, this hinders healthy spiritual development and must be addressed before a person can experience freedom from any type of burn-out.
Scripture is helpful here for it is in scripture that we discover the truth and can be transformed by it. Encouraging those following you to devote everything to prayer (Phil 4:6) and to forgive one another (Mat. 5:21-24, Eph. 4:32), resting in Jesus Christ and the promises of the Word of God (Mat. 11:28). To study the word of God (Josh. 1:1-9, Ps 119, 1 John 1-2) to be Christ-Like (Phil 2:1-11), to live in the new life and grow to maturity (Eph 1:1-2:9, Col 3:1-17) to know who God is (Col. 1:15-20). And so on and so forth all while living in the community of believers and striving for healthy Christ centered relationship.
So how do we restore those who are physically burned out from either stress induced by life or stress induced from abuse? We encourage them by showing them grace, building them up to understand who they are in Christ and that it is okay to slow down and relax. By loving them, helping them find help when it is needed and by leading them to a healthy understanding of who God is and who they are in Christ.
But mostly, by living out in your own life the grace that God has shown you and being willing to be a vessel, poured out, a servant willing to take on the sufferings of others. This is how we restore lives, by being in the trenches, un-afraid of the messiness of others, by forming relationships that are centered around our relationship with God.
For More Articles on Burn-Out and Restoration check out God’s Heart For Those Burn Out and Recovery Series.