“You look stressed,” my chiropractor’s receptionist said as I scheduled my next appointment.

I barely made it out the door to my car before my face was seized by emotion, my lungs packed with air. Apparently, she hit a nerve.

was stressed. In fact, that’s why I was visiting the chiropractor in the first place. I had only been in my dream job for a few months — finding apartments for homeless people, supporting them in their independence. But it soon became clear that, for me, the job was less of a dream and more of a nightmare.

During those few months, I constantly functioned outside my areas of skill and experience. I dreaded phone calls, since I might have to respond to yet another crisis if I answered. I didn’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time. I experienced intense back pain. I was highly anxious, irritable, and melancholy.

As I sat there sobbing in my chiropractor’s parking lot, I finally realized it. This job, the one that seemed like it was made for me, was not. I needed out.

The thought that followed was even more depressing: Now what?

For years, I had worked in the Christian non-profit sector. For years, I had advocated for change in this world. I had fought for social justice, for equity, for awareness of the poverty in our own backyards. But when I thought about pursuing another non-profit position at another inner city organization, my anxiety grew. I was burned out and I needed a break.

But who was I if not “Leanne the non-profit worker?”

In our culture, what we do is often seen as synonymous with who we are. The first question we ask when we meet someone is, “What do you do?” We might even make assumptions about people’s values, morality, passions, and strengths based on the career they have chosen. Our self-worth hinges upon whether we’re living to work or working to live. And as Christians, we can feel this even more poignantly; the lines between “God’s will for my life” and “my occupation” are often blurred.

When I applied for (and then later accepted) a position in the corporate world, I was no longer praised for working with those in poverty. When people asked where I worked, they usually responded with indifference. Someone even asked me whether I was in it for the pension. (I wasn’t.)

As I reflected on this uncomfortable transition, I realized that I defined myself by what I did, rather than who I was in God’s eyes.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are (1 John 3:1)!

I am a child of God, his daughter. I am part of his Church, his family. I bear his image. I am forever pure and blameless in his sight. This is my identity. God has lavished his love on me and uses me to shine his light in the world. Wherever I am — whether it’s on the streets, protesting for change, or empathizing with a hard-to-love co-worker — I am God’s child, and as long as I’m trusting him to work through me, he does, no matter what my occupation might be.

I wish I could say that through this experience I’ve learned to live like God’s daughter every minute of every day. In truth, I forget it often. Things get in the way. I get busy and distracted, apathetic even. Placing my identity in God is something I have to learn over and over again. But I am remembering who I truly am more and more constantly, and that really makes a difference in how I view my life and calling.

If you’ve experienced burnout and would like to talk about it, we’re here to listen. Just fill out the form below.

updated September 2019

Photo Credit: Naud