Chris writes a letter to himself regarding burnout, disillusionment and the importance of self-care.
Dearest Chris from 2007,
Are you aware that the growing resentment that you’re feeling in your heart — that gnawing perception that you’re being used and abused by this ministry; that you’re only wanted when there is a problem to solve and when someone else is having a problem— is reflective of months (perhaps even years!) of pent-up frustration? Have you not realised that you’ve neglected your own needs for quite a while now? Don’t give me the “it is in giving that we receive” narrative that you have so often used to justify your supposed altruistic and selfless actions in this ministry. Stop trying so hard! Stop trying so hard to please everyone around you. Stop trying to cater to everybody’s needs whilst neglecting your own. That really is an impossible feat! No water can be drawn from an empty well; you cannot give what you do not have. Yes, I understand that God has entrusted you to lead a very wonderful ministry. And I understand that it must feel somewhat overwhelming at times to lead, direct and manage both plans as well as personalities in this church organisation.
That being said, do recognise that this ministry is not yours, Chris. This ministry was never yours to begin with. This ministry was here before your very existence and will continue to exist *gasp* even after your leadership tenure. Indeed, stop thinking of yourself as indispensable; stop fooling yourself that you are the “chosen one” to bear the weight of the burden of this entire ministry. NO. This ministry was God’s gift to you for a temporal timeframe. You are merely a steward of this ministry. Stewardship and leadership come together especially in the context of this ministry – these two elements are really two sides of the same coin.
I understand that there seems to be 101 things to be completed, 102 things to be planned and 103 people’s issues that you think you’re meant to solve. *News Flash* you are not God, Chris. Repeat after me, you are not God. And God clearly did not call you to be Him or even God-like in this ministry. Have you heard of the messiah complex Chris? This may sound a tad harsh to hear but realise that you are (and have been) struggling with this for quite a while now. No Chris, you’re not the saviour of this ministry (it is a gross assumption that this ministry requires “saving” anyway) and no, you’re not required to account for each and every soul in this ministry. You’re accountable for your own soul. Perhaps it is poignant and timely to reflect about whether you’ve neglected yourself — and indeed, your very soul — in the process of leading this ministry. When was the last time that you prayed and I mean, really prayed and talked to God?
More importantly, you need to first claim your divine son-ship from Him and recognise that God loves you regardless of what you do. Since when did His love for you become dependent, contingent and conditional upon the so-called success of this ministry? If that were the case, wouldn’t He be setting you up for failure? Besides, the “success” of a ministry is a very subjective term, isn’t it? Have you, then, artificially imposed worldly expectations on a ministry that cannot help but be imperfect? Were we even called to be problem-solvers of such a ministry in the first place or is this the flawed preconceived notion that we had assumed, coming into leadership?
Throughout your term of service in this ministry and especially in the season of leadership, a lot of unpleasant areas of yourself — areas that you previously unaware about — will emerge, sometimes even brutally. You will feel inadequate and at times, you will feel immensely helpless. You will hurt others through your actions with supposed altruistic intentions. You will neglect Mummy and Papa. Eventually, you will even gain an unhealthy attachment to both the ministry as well as the ministry members. You will, in other words, love in a very conditional and constricting manner. You will be un-free to love others as they are, for you have yet to experience being loved as you are Chris.
And all of that is part and parcel of growth. Indeed, all that you’re experiencing (and will experience) is fundamental to self-actualisation and the maturing of Faith. One cannot will these things to happen. After all, only God knows the precise timing in which we’ll be most receptive to opening ourselves up to His love. Often times (and because you and I both know how prideful we can be), there needs to be a lot of breaking-down, a lot of myth-shattering, a lot of tearing-apart of our overly-inflated egos and a lot of painful learning experiences, before we can be fully open ourselves up to the grace of God. Just as how a student told me the other day (and yes, Chris, you will become a teacher in the future), sometimes we are called to be light-sticks in a certain season of our life: we need to allow ourselves to be broken for the inner light within i.e. God’s light and love to fully illuminate our very beings.
We live in an imperfect and broken world Chris. We live in a far from perfect Church and a ministry filled with broken individuals. Learn to recognise and enjoy the beauty in imperfections. Learn to see God in the messiness of ministry. Gaze at this ministry with faith and witness the loving relationships that are forming right before your very eyes: both between brothers in Christ as well as God with man. Give thanks to God for sacred moments that encapsulate love between brothers and mentally note down the many moments of kairos that you have (and will) experience(d) in this ministry.
Lastly, enjoy your time of youth in this season of servant leadership. Make as many mistakes as you can and learn from them. And take care of yourself Chris. As cliché as it sounds, you really cannot give what you do not have. Indeed, “above all, trust in the slow work of God” as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin would say, and recognise that He is leading the way and guiding your hand. In time to come, I can assure you that you will eventually realise just how loved you are. In time to come, I can promise you that you will realise that you’re loved just for being who you are and not what you’re capable of doing. Give yourself the opportunity to be loved by God through your brothers as well.
Chris from 2017.
© 2017 Christ Centered Convo/Christopher Chok