by Afton Rorvik
We who love Jesus often seem to live as though our faith gives us superpowers to “do it all” for others. Because our faith gives us eyes to see and hearts that ache, we jump in to help. And help. And help.
And then we wake up one morning unable to get out of bed from sheer exhaustion, depression, or physical illness.
We have literally burned ourselves out helping in the name of Jesus.
I do not write hypothetically. I have done this.
When my mom discovered that she had a rare brain disease—Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease—I wanted to be with her as much as I could even though she lived in Colorado, and I lived in Illinois with my husband and two teenagers.
I traveled back and forth, spending increasingly more time in Colorado than in Illinois as Mom declined.
I did not notice that I had also begun to decline. In fact, I didn’t fully realize it until I came home to Illinois after Mom’s funeral. As I settled back into life at home, I couldn’t even remember what I had once enjoyed.
Darkness began to settle over me. Depression.
Eventually, with the help of my family and a therapist, I recognized my depression and got help for it, including medication. I also became acutely alert to the danger of diving in to a helping situation and giving everything.
By giving everything, I lost pieces of myself.
Does God call us to that? To lose ourselves to help others? To burn ourselves out for the sake of helping others in His name?
In 1 Corinthians 12, we read about the human body and the body of Christ—both designed to function well as a multi-faceted entity.
But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you” (1 Corinthians 12:18-21, NLT).
At the end of the chapter, Paul concludes:
Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown language? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! (1 Corinthians 12:29-30, NLT).
Seems like a clear call to admit our limits and do life together. Even when that life needs to focus on helping others.
Rather than “burning out for Jesus,” we can take some practical steps.
- Ask others to help—family members, friends, neighbors . . . Most people will happily lend a hand but just need to know how specifically to do that. Groceries? Laundry? Pet care? Reading aloud to a bed-ridden patient? A ride to an appointment? An extra set of ears at that appointment?
- Pay attention to what you need in order to have the energy to offer care. Do you need doses of quiet to get you through the day (an introvert)? Or do you need doses of people interaction to get you through the day (an extrovert)? Helping others does not suddenly mean that your own needs just evaporate. You still need to keep your tank full. If you start to sputter and grumble due to an empty tank, you will not help anyone well.
- Embrace the boundary-setting power of saying no. When you feel depleted, pay attention! Talk to yourself about how you feel and why you feel this way. Then come up with a plan to address your need, including speaking that powerful sentence, “No, I can’t do that.”
- And ask others to join you in specific prayer. Let God (and others) hear the ache of your heart and invite Him to show up in the midst of it and help you to trust Him to do far beyond what you can do in your mere human effort.
If we learn NOT to “burn ourselves out for Jesus,” imagine how truly effective we can become as the hands and feet of Jesus in a hurting world so in need of balanced caregivers.
Afton Rorvik writes about living connected, something that matters deeply to her even as an introvert. She and her husband John have two adult children and love to walk and hike in Colorado. You can connect with Afton on her website or on Facebook, Goodreads, or Twitter. You can sign up for her monthly newsletter here.
Afton’s book Storm Sisters: Friends through all Seasons (Worthy Inspired, 2014) tells the story of her journey with her dying mother.