“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.
I was stressed. In fact, that’s why I was at the chiropractor’s in the first place. I had only been in my dream job — finding apartments for homeless people, supporting them in their independence — for a few months. 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 level of skill and experience. I dreaded phone calls, as I might have to respond to yet another crisis. 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, the 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 synonymous with who we are. It’s the first question we ask when we meet someone new. We make assumptions about people — their values, morality, their passions and strengths — based on how they occupy the hours between 9 and 5. Our self-worth hinges upon whether we’re living to work or working to live. And as Christians, we feel this even more poignantly; the lines between “God’s will” and “occupation” are often blurred.
When I applied for (and then later accepted) a position in the corporate world, I came face-to-face with my own sense of self. I was no longer praised for working with those in poverty; when people asked where I worked, they usually responded with indifference. Someone once asked me whether I was in it for the pension. (I wasn’t.)
As I reflected on this uncomfortable transition, I realized that in my eagerness to make a difference in the world, I had defined myself by what I did, rather than Who I did it for.
“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, I am His daughter. I am part of His Church, His family. I bear His image. 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 willing and available for Him to work through me, He does.
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 re-learn over and over. But despite it all, He continues to love me. He hasn’t disowned me; I’m still His daughter.
I get to be part of God’s ultimate story of redemption for all of humanity. Why wouldn’t I want to identify with that?
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