Easter weekend had come and gone. The Super Bowl Sunday for a music pastor. It was an amazing celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and now, it was time to put my feet up and enjoy some much-needed rest. What started as a two-week vacation spiraled into nine months of being off work. Now, you’re probably thinking, that sounds amazing! Well, it didn’t go down like that. My short vacation turned into a one-month sick leave, then a sabbatical and then I ended up using all my stored-up vacation. My doctor diagnosed me with clinical burnout. I was toast. Done. Roasted. Fried. Caput. Whatever you want to call it. It was rough. If you’ve experienced this before, I’m sorry. If you haven’t, I pray you never do.
It was the hardest season of my life, not only for me, but my entire family. Although it was a very challenging time, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Wait what? How does that work?
“Mountaintops are for views and inspiration, but fruit is grown in the valleys.” – Billy Graham
My life has changed since I’ve made my slow ascent out of the valley, and now, by the grace of God, I can stand on the mountain top to tell the story. It’s not fun going through fire. It’s not an enjoyable experience hitting rock bottom at the base of the valley, but now that I’ve climbed up the mountain, the view is beautiful. Here are a few things that I’ve learned through this last year.
When you hit the bottom of the valley, it’s dark. There’s literally nowhere to turn. You can’t turn to the right, and there is nothing to see on the left. The only place you can look is up. God got my attention. Up until this point, I’ve been in pastoral ministry for nearly 15 years, and it honestly wasn’t until this moment where I got a chance to experience an intimacy with Christ like I’ve never experienced before. Sometimes the LORD puts us through these seasons to get our attention. It sure worked for me.
“I lift my eyes up to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip – He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” – Psalm 121:1-4 (NIV)
Hitting rock bottom forces you to look up. And when you look up (at least where I live) you see the beautiful mountains. I am blessed to live in a city where the glory of the Lord is so evident! In case you didn’t know, the Bible actually talks about how creation points to His glory!
“The heavens declare the glory of the God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” – Psalm 19:1 (NIV)
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” – Romans 1:20 (NIV)
Clinical burnout brought me to the awareness of God’s glory. I have become aware of His beauty all around me. This might not sound like a huge deal to you, but for the first time in years, I heard the birds. If my wife couldn’t find me around the house, the first place she would look for me is on our back patio. I would often sit on our patio with my Bible and listen to the birds. I became a bird guy.
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? – Matthew 6:26 (NIV)
I took this passage seriously and literally. I would go on long walks to “look at the birds,” and every chirp blessed my soul. That might sound weird to you, but it really impacted me deeply. Every chirp I heard was a reminder of the hope, love and safety found in God, as well as the reality that He provides my every need physically, financially and emotionally. And I was in desperate need of Him to be my source and strength during this challenging time.
To wrap it all up, by getting my attention, I became aware of His presence and His beauty all around me. I had nowhere to look but up. I had no one to look to except Him alone. The more I gazed into His beautiful face, two things happened. Firstly, my anxieties, my fears and the damage within me that was caused by clinical burnout began to heal. Jesus is our great physician. We see Him throughout the gospels, and we know He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Secondly, the deeper I gazed into His eyes, the more my desire for the things of this world would fade. What was the result? This made me available to serve Him in a way that I’ve never experienced before. I became bolder in my faith and confident to share my failures and struggles with those God has placed in my life. The fruit from this change? Neighbours giving their lives to the LORD, conversations about the LORD with strangers, counselors, friends and family members. Shamelessly promoting the Word and helping people turn towards Christ. The ways of the world and the reaction that the world has towards the gospel didn’t faze me anymore. I began doing more ministry during my burnout than I was in full-time ministry at my local church!
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” – Helen H. Lemmel
I got a whole new perspective on life and ministry when I hit rock bottom. I am realizing as I climb out of the darkness and into His marvelous light, that He graciously allowed this all to happen to me because He loves me. He wanted my attention. He wanted to bring awareness to His presence again that had slowly faded from my vision due to the cares of this world. And now that I am attentive and aware, my life is fully available to Him, and my desire is to do all things for Him.
Do you need to hit rock bottom to learn these truths? Thank God that is not always the case! I am learning that sometimes, He allows people to go through this to help the individual and to use their story to protect others. Maybe my story can help you become attentive, aware and available without having to hit rock bottom! If you could learn these things without going through clinical burnout, I highly recommend you take that route. As you read this, I pray for you. May the God of all peace give you peace as you journey through your mountain-top experiences and your valley lows that He graciously allows you to walk through for His glory. Pay attention. Be aware. Live available.