Handling Emotional Burnout (Psalm 40)
Handling Emotional Burnout
Jane hung up the phone. It was the nursing home. Her mom had quit eating and she needed to come over immediately. Jane went out, got into her car, and broke down in tears of anger and frustration. The weight of the world was on her shoulders and she could not understand why no one else was helping her. She was a school teacher, a mom, a wife and there wasn’t enough hours in the day to get everything done that needed to be done. Jane was starting to wonder if she even cared about anything anymore…
Tom is hardly ever at home. He has a new job with a lucrative pay but it keeps him on the road most of the time. To be honest, despite the large increase in salary, the travel is exhausting. So much so that Tom has no energy to spend, even when he is at home, with his 2 year old son…
Sandy is a good student in school. If the truth were known, maybe she was too good. She is involved in a lot of activities and taking advanced classes. All the activity, the hustle and bustle and expectations of keeping her grades up keeps her from sleeping peacefully. She can’t relax. At times, she can’t even focus. She has to keep herself drugged with coffee to keep her mind active and awake in the afternoons. But, all the pressure is beginning to make her think that nothing she does is really good enough. She may not even apply to college because she just wants to get away from the pressure…
Burning the candle at both ends. Humans have limitations in our time and in our energy. Our society is pushing the limits on what we expect out of ourselves. Our technology was designed to make life easier but in some ways, it has made life more stressful. We have cell phones so those most important to us can contact us any time anywhere. The problem is that anyone who now has our number can contact us any time anywhere and we too often feel like we absolutely must answer the phone.
“Burnout” is a stressful state characterized by physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, chronic fatigue, and lethargy.
If you have serious burnout, you can:
feel cynical (pessimistic) about life
have a desire to just escape
experience false sense of failure
display emotional distance and apathy
experience negative feelings toward others
show anger inappropriately
fall into depression
get sick easily
turn to alcohol, drugs, or illicit relationships
People in the helping professions are prone to burnout: preachers, doctors, teachers, police, social workers, others who work extensively with people. The more we give, give, give, without replenishing our sources, the more likely we are to experience burnout. We have a limited amount of time, energy, and resources. Caregivers of those who are chronically ill can also experience burnout. They feel trapped, even though they are doing something they know needs to be done for someone they love. Too often, they are isolated from normal life and can’t find sufficient time to rest and have relief.
Let us begin by studying Psalm 40 and we’ll put our discussion of emotional burnout in a spiritual context…
This psalm was written by David who, of course, had many, many pressures put on him in his life as king plus the weight of sin and regret that he carried around with him…
DAVID WAS IN A PIT - 40:1-2:
Notice in verse 2 that David felt like he was in a pit, a pit of destruction, with feet bogged down in miry clay. I don’t believe David was literally in a pit. But he felt like it, like there was no way out. Just like when we feel stuck because of burnout. We feel like we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
But, David prayed to God. Then David waited patiently. The Hebrew here is emphatic; to translate literally, we would say, “To wait, I waited.” David prayed and then he waited for God to act. God did hear David’s prayer and God responded by lifting David out of the pit. God took David’s feet out of the clay and set them on rock, making David’s steps firm.
DAVID RESPONDS IN WORSHIP - 40:3:
How did David respond to God’s blessing? David worships. He says that God put a song into his heart, into his mouth. Not only that, but David gives praise to God publicly. He leads others to understand where his blessings originate.
TRUST GOD TO DO RIGHT - 40:4:
David had just said in verse 3 that many should fear God and trust Him. In verse 4, David says you are “blessed,” a “recipient of divine favor” if you trust in the Lord. In fact, notice that David does not use “trust” as a verb but as a description of God: “Make the Lord your trust!” This metaphor is strong to show just how much we expect God to do right by us.
But there are two caveats to this trust: humility and truth. God does not turn His attention and His affection toward those who are proud. Are we experiencing burnout because we are too proud for help? God might not answer our prayer. God also does not turn His attention to those who tell lies. Speak the truth. Always. Trust God to do right.
OBEDIENCE TRUMPS EVERYTHING - 40:5:
The “wonders” David refers to here likely refer to all the things God has done - creating the world and nature, bring Israel out of Egypt, even making David king. You recall that God saved David and his sheep from a lion and a bear one time. David knows that God’s thoughts are toward His people. Today, the church is God’s people so we know that God’s thoughts are toward us, as His children through Jesus Christ. The wonders God has done are simply too numerous to count.
WORSHIP IS SUBSERVIENT TO OBEDIENCE - 40:6-8:
When David says that God does not desire sacrifice and meal offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings, he is not stating a fact. God, in fact, commanded those sacrifices and offerings in the Law of Moses. David is not encouraging rebellion.
First, notice that David says, “My ears you have opened” - that is, to listen to God’s word, His message. Secondly, in verse 7, David says that he has come to find delight in obeying Jehovah God (vs 8). God’s law is in David’s heart. Where are your priorities? Is God’s will a priority for you? Is God’s will in your heart? Is God’s law in your heart?
GLORIFYING GOD (EVANGELISM) IS A RESULT OF BLESSING - 40:9-10b:
When God answers David’s prayer, David has to praise God. He must glorify God. He must tell other people about God - who He is and what He has done. In verse 9, David speaks about the righteousness of God. David will not refrain his lips from offering praises to God.
You know, if we are too busy to worship God, we are absolutely too busy. We are sinfully busy if we can’t get to worship, at least on the Lord’s day. That is a real, serious concern for us in our society. The world could not care less about worship. But for Christians, that’s who we are!
David has not hidden God’s righteousness in his heart. He does not keep his faith to himself. He’s going to share it. But not just God’s righteousness…
DAVID SPEAKS OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS AND TRUTH - 40:10c-11:
“Lovingkindness” is God’s loyalty, His steadfast love, His grace, His mercy. All those words are contained in that Hebrew word - chesed. God’s “truth” is the truth that comes from God’s mouth in which we put our trust. David is going to speak of God’s faithfulness, His truth, His salvation, His lovingkindness in the great congregation. That is corporate worship, worship with the whole nation of Israel, at least those who have come on a given day to the temple.
David was a worshiper.
In verse 11, David acknowledges that God will not withhold His compassion from David. God’s lovingkindness and truth will preserve David continually. I have a friend from my days in Georgia who lives in NM now; her husband is a preacher. She was recently diagnosed with cancer - breast cancer (she’s only a couple of years younger than me). I commented on her facebook page that God cannot do an unloving thing. It is impossible. We need to constantly remind ourselves of that fact.
DAVID DEALS WITH REGRETS - 40:12:
Among the things with which David is overwhelmed is that of his sins. Evils beyond number surround David. He feels like his iniquities have overwhelmed him and he can’t see clearly. His sins are more numerous than the hairs of his head. And all of this weighs on his heart.
DELIVERANCE COMES FROM GOD - 40:13:
David has already asked for deliverance back in verses 1-2. God answered. Here again, David prays for deliverance, this time from his sins that weigh on his heart. He asks God for deliverance and he asks for it quickly.
VENGEANCE BELONGS TO GOD - 40:14-15:
Sometimes our burnout comes from not having the human support we need - whether at the nursing home or from our siblings in taking care of our parent(s). David lets God take care of those whom God needs to take care of. In other words, David always allowed God to even the scales of justice. He prays in this particular passage that God will make ashamed and humiliated those who seek David’s life to destroy it. He asks that those who delight in David’s hurt to be turned back and to be dishonored.
Those who laugh at David, he asks in verse 15, to be appalled at their shame for treating David the way they were treating him. Handle the things and the people you can handle. Correct those who need correcting. And let God keep the scales of justice balanced.
A FINAL WORD OF PRAISE FOR GOD - 40:16:
David asks on behalf of others who want to do right, who want to be right in the eyes of God, that God will bless them who seek Him. They’ll rejoice and be glad in God. He prays that those who seek salvation, as David does, will continually glorify God for what He has done.
DAVID ASKS FOR GOD’S PRESENCE - 40:17:
One final time, David acknowledges his dire straits - he is afflicted and needy. David is burdened; maybe, he is burned out. So he prays that the Lord will be “mindful” of him. He wants God to think about him. Why? Because David acknowledges his utter dependence on God. God is his help and his deliverer.
The psalm concludes with David praying that God will be quick about providing some relief…
STEPS TO TAKE:
You might need to take immediate steps to find relief from your responsibilities. Take some time off; get away. We all need an appropriate amount of sleep, relaxation, and exercise. Ask family members or friends to help share some of the load, at least briefly. Then you also need to find some long-term solutions in order to avoid burnout from recurring.
1. Take control of your schedule. And quit volunteering for everything under the sun! You control your own schedule and don’t let your schedule control you. When I was in college, I had Wendell Winkler as a professor. You might recognize his name as he wrote often for the Spiritual Sword. Brother Winkler told us preacher boys that every day has three parts to it: morning (until lunch) afternoon (until supper), and evening (until bed-time). He told us that no one needs to be busy all three parts of the day, at least not for an extended period of time. That was wise counsel, I have found, over the past 25 years of preaching. High school and college students should find the balance between what is essential and what is “extra” and focus on what is essential.
2. Learn to say no. And don’t feel bad about saying no!
3. Understand God’s will. Yes, God created us to work (Gen. 2:15) but in the same act of creation, God set aside one day to rest (Gen. 2:3). Certainly God did not need to rest but He set the pattern for His human creation. Man needs to rest. If you are too busy to spend time in Bible study, you are busier than God wants you to be. If you are too busy to pray - not driving down the road but focused prayer - then you are busier than God wants you to be. Jesus commanded His disciples in Mark 6:31 to “rest awhile.” There are also a couple of references to Jesus secluding Himself (Matt 14:13, 23; John 6:15).
4. Slow down. Slow your life down; again, control your own schedule and don’t feel bad about not doing everything that every one asks you to do. Take the time to replenish your resources.
5. Set priorities. You may get less done quantitatively but your quality of work will surely go up because you’ll have the energy to put into what is most important. Cut out what is not important or, at least, narrow down those activities.
6. Pray. Pray that God will help you sort out your priorities, find the human resources to help you, and have the strength to say no to those things that are not important.
Take home message: Burnout is self-defeating. God will help you get your life back under control.