I recently attended the HealthCare Chaplaincy Network Conference in Chicago. Various participants spoke to me about the challenges faced by hospice and hospital chaplains, nurses, social workers and other healthcare providers, and a repeated theme was professional burnout. According to The Lancet magazine, burnout is physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion resulting from long-term involvement in emotionally-demanding situations.
It’s not only the healthcare field that faces burnout. Teachers, government workers, and police officers are among many groups that search for ways to combat exhausting professional stress and frustration. In his book, The Oath, Jeffrey Toobin speaks of even the justices of the U. S. Supreme Court becoming tired, irritated, and on edge with each other at the end of a court term.
At the conference one nurse told me, “You must take care of yourself in order to be valuable to others.” Other individuals nodded in agreement and related various strategies they use in self-care. These included eating right; getting proper rest; taking time to go for a walk or run; and centering oneself. Furthermore, one woman added, “And pray for yourself each day!”
The Bible can be a great resource in learning to how prevent or even overcome professional burnout. I am reminded of the story of Nehemiah. After the Babylonians had conquered the people of Israel, Nehemiah, a Jew, asked the king of Babylon if he could rebuild the broken wall of Jerusalem. This was a very formidable job and took a great deal of courage and perseverance, because not only was Nehemiah repeatedly harassed by enemies who did not want the wall rebuilt, he was faced at one point with tired and unhappy workers, whose vision for the project had flagged. In the middle of all this discontent and pressure, Nehemiah prayed, “O God, strengthen my hands.” It was a prayer of humility, yielding to the might of the Divine. As a result of this prayer, Nehemiah felt the divine strength, courage, patience, intelligence, resilience, conviction and determination he needed. And he and his people finished rebuilding the wall at last. The Bible states that even Nehemiah’s enemies realized “that this work was wrought of our God.”
Feeling overly responsible for the success of our efforts to benefit others can be so taxing. But turning to God for support, and recognizing Him as the source of love and strength can be freeing. The willingness to connect with God brings the wisdom not only to act intelligently, but to do so with compassion, patience and grace. The Bible assures us that as we turn humbly and wholeheartedly to God, “…thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left” (Isaiah 30: 21). Even in the middle of an extremely busy day, as we recognize the presence of divine Love, we can hear divine intelligence helping us to say and do the right thing with forbearance and empathy – and accomplish our tasks successfully.
In my own healing practice, helping others through prayer, I have found these words of Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy extremely helpful, “Love (a name for God) inspires, illumines, designates and leads the way” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 454). This means to me that I am never alone in my work, but always in the presence of unconditional, invigorating, intelligent Love and that I can witness Love’s guidance and protection in my life and in the lives of those I help.
Divine Love never wears out, is never burnt out, or empty. Turning to this Love, we can realize that we are not just limited biological beings, trying to do our best, but actually spiritual beings, instruments of God’s limitless love.
No matter your profession, if you are trying to make this a better world, divine Love is supporting you as it did Nehemiah, enabling you to not only cope, but to feel energized and renewed in accomplishing your work successfully.
©2017 Christian Science Committee on Publication for Illinois