Last week I drove past a farm that was an arresting sight. A stately old red barn stood at the forefront of the property, two doors wide open to the world, completely flooded by water. I don’t know why, but I found it fascinating. I wanted to stop and stare at it; I wanted a picture. It was sad and beautiful and seemed to silently speak volumes—if only I could figure out exactly what it was saying.
Today, half-way through another three week stint between days off, I got home and spent a couple of hours doing little more than staring at the floor, my eyes like vacant doors, my thoughts muddy and scattered, like murky waters that weren’t going anywhere fast. And I remembered that old barn. If only the owners of that barn had been prepared. If only they had seen what was coming and put up protective walls to keep the dangerous flood waters at bay. If only I had done the same.
Burn-out is a strange thing, making a wreck of lives once purposeful and beautiful. Like flood-waters, it is a danger that often encroaches by inches. A person may think they are safe from its hazards, but who in our culture is not in some danger of being swamped by the myriad pressures all around us? How easy for life expectations to get out of whack, especially in the areas of work, relationships, school, finances and ministry—things that feel so crucial. The pressures come from without and within, from the demands of others and our expectations of ourselves. The dangers without are like that flood—beyond our control, only escapable by sand-bagging our lives with firm boundaries. The dangers within are often subtle, easily overlooked or ignored. Two years ago in my family home one tiny leak in an inconsequential pipe flooded the bottom levels of the house. The damage was ghastly, and even though a year and thousands of dollars in repairs later it could be called relatively “normal” again, it will never be exactly like it was. So it is with burn-out. It can be very costly, and there’s no saying how long it will take to come back to “normal.” Some optimistic psychologists say it’s likely you’ll never be back like you were again. It’s all very haunting, especially when you realize the pipes have burst, the river is overflowing, and you’re up to your glazed eyeballs in a flood problem.
It’s at times like this that I’m glad God has the final word in life, not the psychologists. They don’t give me much hope, but God is a worker of miracles and reversals. One of my favorite scripture passages in Isaiah 61 is full of ugly realities God intends to turn inside out, comfort in place of mourning, beauty in place of ashes, gladness instead of despair. And one verse which seems to pertain particularly to my current mucky situation: “They [His grieving people] will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations” (Is. 61:4). If God can restore whole cities that have been demolished for ages, certainly He has the ability to restore the mess I’ve made of my own house, which He built and which is now His. The waters of burn-out may be strong, but God is stronger. He can push back the flood waters or give me the strength to swim through. One thing is certain—He will never leave me to struggle alone.
“But now, this is what the LORD says—he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:1-2