we rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance, and
endurance produces character, and character produces hope
By Stephen W. Hiemstra (podcast)
In April 2019 after I published my book, Simple Faith, I was burned out. Physically and emotionally exhausted, my motivation also flatlined. I thought to myself, take it easy a couple weeks and you will bounce back. Weeks passed; no bounce back. Clearly, in my writing and editing this time I had pushed myself too far.
Burnout’s Physical Component
In June I returned to my usual swim routine of swimming half a mile a day. During my eight months of editing, I had often cheated on my routine swimming only a quarter mile to make more time to work. Besides, I thought, I am too distracted to concentrate on or enjoy my swim.
Returning to my routine did nothing to relieve the burnout, but I noticed that my burnout was more pronounced in the evening, much like sunset dementia—a condition where Alzheimer’s patients manifest dementia more clearly when tired at the end of the day. At first this observation really bothered me—am I beginning to manifest Alzheimer’s disease, like my father or my grandmother? In prayer, I found the strength to take another interpretation. If burnout has a physical component, then a physical solution is warranted.
Initially, this insight helped little. I said to myself, what good is this? I barely have the energy to complete my workout, let alone step it up. One day in the gym, I even made fun of myself joking with a friend—what am I going to do, buy a pair of running shoes and start running intervals? Later, I was so embarrassed at myself. Then I thought, why not? I haven’t had a knee problem since the 1990s. Perhaps, I could cross train and avoid knee injuries.
In July I ordered a pair of running shoes online. The days after placing the order I was so uncertain about my ability to jog again that, when they arrived, I hid the shoes from my wife, thinking she would ridicule me for wasting my money on such a foolish idea. Still, I put on a new set of shorts and new tee-shirt and started jogging every other day. All along hoping that no one would see me.
To keep things easy, I began running intervals. Jog a hundred paces, then walk a hundred paces. Days became weeks. Now, three months into jogging I have abandoned running intervals to jog continuously at a slow pace.
As I write at the end of September, I have never felt better. Although my workout leaves me physically exhausted, the burnout has gone; my head is clear; and many of the old-age sorts of complaints have vaporized.
Heart, Mind, and Body
The New Testament assumes that heart, mind, and body are inter-related parts of an undivided, unified whole that I have often described as Hebrew anthropology. The alternative is Greek anthropology where heart, mind, and body operate independently.
Why did Jesus need to experience bodily resurrection after the cruxifixction? Jesus was not a ghost, that is, a spirit without a body, and he was not a zombie, a body without a spirit. Jesus rose from the dead—re-created whole—retaining physical scars, but displaying no emotional scars, as might be expected of a resuscitated body. Bodily resurrection exemplifies Hebrew anthropology because heart, mind, and body are interrelated, not separable in a complete, healthy person.
Sunshine and Exercise
I have often been chided for my advice to people depressed to get more sunshine and exercise, both natural anti-depressants. In my own burnout narrative, this advice worked but only after several months of effort.
The spiritual principle at work here, other than recognizing the importance of Hebrew anthropology, is that pain presents us with a Gethsemane moment. In our pain do we turn to God and give it over to him or do we turn into our pain and have a pity-party? (Matt 26:39) Elsewhere, Jesus says plainly: “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matt 10:38)
In a world of chronic problems and endless ways to avoid pain, this teaching sounds harsh. Many friends and family members when hearing of my burnout have advised me to find a good counselor or simply to get my doctor to prescribe anti-depressants. Is sunshine and exercise a harsh response? Yes, it is harsh, almost masochistic. But if God communicates with us through our pain and we medicate our way through it, what have we learned and how has the experience transformed us?
Many answers can be given to our Gethsemane moments, but our responses ultimately define who we are as Christians, as the Apostle Paul suggests in the verses cited above.
Sunshine and Exercise
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