Recently the World Health Organization declared Burnout a medical diagnosis. Burnout is a word we hear pretty regularly. We know people who are discouraged with work and going through the motions. We may even feel it ourselves–but most of us would never want to admit it. Burnout at work and depression are close cousins. For many years as a pastor and over the past fews years running our business, I have struggled with depression and even burnout here and there. A few years ago, my struggles brought me to a crisis point. For all appearance to the contrary, insecurities, depression, and belief that I was unlovable all resulted in a period where I was characterized by irritability, anger and sadness. In the midst of leading a rapidly growing business, raising our young family, and serving at my church, things finally came to a head: Lisa told me things had to change. She couldn’t go on the way things were going. I knew she was telling the truth. So I sought help.
I went away to a week-long therapy retreat near Nashville I had read about in one of Donald Miller’s books. As a pastor I was skeptical about therapists, but I figured Donald Miller is a pretty smart guy and they seemed to help him; maybe they could help me. Truthfully, I didn’t really know who “Me” was. Early on, my therapist Angela told me to draw a picture of what I wanted. Are you kidding me lady?
“I’m going to get something from my office while you draw. I’ll be back in a few minutes to see your picture.” She told me.
This is stupid—I hate exercises like this. I’m not a five-year-old. I grabbed a pencil and a piece of paper.
“Oh no you don’t!” She called back to me. “No monochrome. You’re a colorful person. You have to use at least five colors in your picture.”
“Are you serious?” I challenged.
“Oh, I’m serious. I’ll be back in about ten minutes. I can’t wait to see what you draw.” And she walked out the door.
I could not have been at more of a loss as to what to draw. Draw a picture of what I want? That’s why I flew all the way out here—to figure that out! Ugh this is painful!
I knew she was coming back and I better have something to show. So I started to draw.
“Ok, let’s see what you drew!” Angela said walking through the door. “Wow. Good job. That’s interesting. Do you see what you drew?”
“Yeah I drew a picture of my family.”
“Yes you did. You came here with big questions about who you are and about your purpose. You told me the first day you feared floating off into space like Sandra Bullock’s character in the movie Gravity. Remember? Do you see where did you drew yourself in this picture?”
“Standing on the ground” I answered, seeing that part of my own drawing for the first time.
“Yep, you’re standing on green grass. And see those smiles on all your faces? You even drew all of you holding hands! And under the warm sun!”
“I don’t get it, what are you saying?” I asked, confused.
“Stephen, what you want is to be grounded and connected with your family. You’re looking to give yourself permission to be you. It’s as profound and simple as that.”
Angela acted as a significant guide in the early stages, helping me begin to rediscover my own identity. My week away launched me on a journey of meeting with a regular therapist, reading the Bible, talking to spiritual mentors, and drawing on the tools I learned in my seminary and doctoral programs.
I have been working hard to see and work through issues and false beliefs holding me back and causing my depression for a while now. Lisa and I have been in counseling for our marriage to rediscover ourselves and one another again. And, we are learning to play again as a family! We take adventures together, eat pancakes most mornings, and I picked up the guitar again to add music to our home. I love to look down and see my Collide with the Sky Ring, reminding me to to rise to the challenge as I pursue the life I was created to live. As a dad, I owe it to my family to look hard and long at those beliefs in my life that hold me back and create rifts in my relationships.
I share these things because I know many people struggle with burnout, depression, addiction and more. I am not fixed now, but I continue to grow in my ability to face my demons, not let them control me and most importantly to enter more fully into relationships. I paid attention to what I was feeling and others were telling me. I got help–I shared my struggles with some close friends and found a therapist. I followed through in the process no matter how silly or painful if felt along the way. If you’re feeling depleted, irritable, negativity and cynicism–if loved ones are concerned about you–I encourage you to take similar steps. They’re scary but worth it.
When I met Angela in Nashville, I thought I wanted to know which way I needed to go vocationally. Should I return to being a pastor? Should I keep going in business? Should do something else? I was surprised to find what I want is to be grounded, connected to my family, enjoying each other. Last summer our family was playing together in England and decided to take the photo at the top of this post–it just came together this way. It’s exactly the picture I drew years ago! What’s your picture?