I began this site with a series looking at five different themes I have experienced while shepherding cross-cultural workers. One of them was titled Five Themes Facilitating Ill Health and Ineffectiveness Amongst Global Workers: Theme #2 Total Exhaustion.
A few weeks ago a reader commented on this entry with a question:
“This. is. so. true. I wonder how you would respond to the question of what to do to address that total depletion, if things have gone that far?”
This is a great question. My response would be limited to my own personal experience. It would be extremely helpful if a number of readers would chime in on this question. There must be medical, psychological, emotional, physical, spiritual, and relational elements to be addressed here. What is your experience? Please leave a comment.
Here’s an initial thought of my own.
A Time of Disengagement?
Deep exhaustion that leads to break down is usually from an accumulation over years. A two week vacation is not going to rectify the issue. Prolonged disengagement from normal life activities is required. This might sound like a drastic suggestion. Most organizations do not even have this practice as a policy. Yet….
One of the ways forward I would explore with someone who manifests deep exhaustion is a sabbatical. A sabbatical is an extended time of disengagement from “normal” activities so that different activities can be engaged. This usually means an extended time away from work routines and roles and responsibilities to engage in activities that allow for healing, renewal, a healthier perspective on life and work, and an opportunity to reenter normal work responsibilities with different expectations and rhythms.
People seem to be able to handle the idea of a time frame of around 3 months for a sabbatical. My experience, however, is that it can take 6-8 weeks to regain a sense of equilibrium sufficient to allow for intake. If I have been driving hard for 20 years or more, what makes me think I can learn to cease driving hard in 2 weeks or a month? 4-6 months is usually a better starting framework. Step of faith? For sure. If I step away from my role will it be given to another? Possibly. Will supporters cease to support me? Maybe. But where did I get all those in the first place? God does provide. Period. The question is, will I trust him? And, is life in my work or is God my life?
If someone has been in ministry a few years, say 2-3 years, yet find themselves in such significant fatigue, a sabbatical would not be my first suggestion. Likely, a resident care center (Link Care, Alongside, etc.), might be a better option to explore how one got to this place so quickly. Then again, there are those working in traumatizing settings, such as human trafficking or refugee work that is another situation entirely. I have tended to some of these workers who are simply spent after 3 years of such harsh work. Trauma debriefing, rest and the design of a sustainable model would be an ideal conversation.
Of course, there are too many potential variables to cover in such a brief article.
A sabbatical is merely one possible response to one who is manifesting deep exhaustion. Please add your thoughts to this discussion. Collectively we can come up with a rounded list of ideas and resources that could guide us as we engage those who are profoundly weary. Thank you in advance.