Nearly 10 years ago, as a college pastor at the University of Oregon, I toiled nearly 80 hours a week doing the “work of the Lord.” No boundaries. No rhythms. No intention. No rest. Every crisis was my crisis. Every complaint was my problem. Everything and everyone came to me. The long and short of it. I began to burn out. And I knew there was a problem when I started hoping I would burn out. Burnout offered a way out of all the insanity. Though I had never thought it possible, I was, in Paul’s words, beginning to “weary in doing good” (Gal. 6:9). The cost was high. I constantly got sick, my marriage was struggling, and my ministry became misery as I went frantically from crisis to crisis.
Flannery O’Connor has this little throwaway line where she speaks of a priest who is “unimaginative and overworked.” That was me. There was only one problem: The ministry was thriving. People were getting baptized. Students were repenting. The group was growing. It all came to a head one Saturday morning. After an 80-hour workweek, I scheduled an appointment with a student in our college ministry for 10:00 a.m. that Saturday morning. Having not slept well for over a month, I missed my appointment, not even hearing the sound of my alarm. I woke up to a voicemail on my phone: “How could you miss this appointment? Pastors shouldn’t miss appointments. You have failed me.”
I had become, in the words of Stanley Hauerwas, a “quivering mass of availability.” A need-filler. A gofer. A Christian handyman, available to everyone and everything but the Lord my God. Standing there, I nearly broke my flip phone over my knee and threw it against the wall. I had been working tirelessly ...1
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