It was probably a year ago that I reached out to Robynn and said “I think I’m burned out.”
Now what I love about our friendship is that she didn’t dismiss it or make a funny quip, she asked serious and hard questions. And as I read them I started to cry. I just nodded and cried and nodded and cried. And then I curled into a little ball and cried some more.
It was so clear that I had all the symptoms of burn out. I was empty – from inside to outside. I was apathetic – it didn’t matter if I had a major deadline looming, I just didn’t care. I was cynical – it didn’t matter how bright the bulb, how great the cause, to me it was dim and unworthy. I was tired – so tired, all the time; I just couldn’t get enough sleep. And worst of all – I felt complete despair. Nothing would ever get better. Nothing would change.
I was so determined to burn bright that I had burned out. I was so bent on making sure my family, my job, my friends both close and distant, and my writing were all functioning and doing well that without realizing it the candle had melted down and burned out.
All that was left was the wax in a fetal position.
There are times when you are allowed to withdraw from life, there are times when you are forced to withdraw from life, and then there are times when you can’t. When you have to keep going even as a ball of wax. Just ask refugee moms in Syria – they are not allowed to give up, and so they won’t.
And such was the case for me. It wasn’t a time when I could withdraw from life, I had to figure out how to continue going without collapsing; how to withdraw without completely disengaging; how to rest without stopping completely.
C.S. Lewis, that modern-day Church Father, says “It is wonderful what you can do when you have to.” It’s an odd quote coming from this scholar/apologist. It’s more like a “mom” quote. And there is much truth to it.
Because sometimes you can’t quit even though the candle has gone out. Sometimes you can’t worry about the flame, you just have to continue to be a candle. Sometimes the goal is not to burn bright, or even burn at all, instead it is just to ‘be’ one day at a time.
Some days you feel like the tiniest tea light that will be gone in a couple of hours, and somedays you feel like one of those gigantic, decorative candles that never stop burning.
So these months I’ve tried to figure out what it means for me to be a candle that doesn’t burn bright, that doesn’t really burn at all. But by God’s grace I am still here. I am still standing. I am still seeking to be faithful. Just flickering along.
There are some beautiful verses in the Bible that speak to these feelings, that recognize life can be difficult. I read them continually, because they express what this candle can’t:
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned;struck down, but not destroyed.We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”*
How about you?
*2 Corinthians 4: 7-10