I have to admit that I rarely listen to pre-flight instructions that explain if the cabin loses pressure during a flight, we will need to put on an oxygen mask or risk losing consciousness. Airlines tell us to put on our own mask before helping someone else, such as a young child, with their mask. The reason for this is if we pass out, we will not be able to help anybody. I think that this has application for those of us not only in the helping professions but also for all of us just trying to care for others.
I have run marathons, but will I or anyone else ever run an under one hour marathon? Fat chance! Will I ever be able to drive, text, and memorize Psalm 1 while singing karaoke in the car? I would hope not. Will I ever, on a moment’s notice, be able to affirm, comfort, confront, encourage, debrief, share and teach someone all at the same time? I doubt it, but our society seems bent on increasing the speed at which we do life which results in some of us “falling out” from the fatigue of overdoing and overexertion.
H. B. London defines this as overload. London writes, “Overload can be defined as the point at which our limits are exceeded. ‘Load’ is not the problem. ‘Over’ is the problem. We have all heard about the straw that broke the camel’s back. Once a camel is maximally loaded, a mere straw will cause the break. The problem is not the load — camels love to carry loads. The problem is overload.” London shares that Jesus understood what it meant to have balance and focus on what is important … i.e. busyness is not necessarily godliness. He is more concerned with the quality of our lives. He calls us to be fruitful, but He also insists that our fruit should ‘remain’ not burn out.” London contrasts Jesus’ example with our tendency to be in an endless hurry.
While stress can certainly be part of following God’s calling in our lives, H. B. shares some suggestions on how we can avoid burnout:
- Accept responsibility. We must never relinquish control of our schedules to the unpredictable and sometimes ruthless whims of the world or the demands of others. We should be active in self-examination. Nobody is locked into anything. Each of us can accomplish the needed changes if we want them badly enough.
- Acknowledge limits. We can schedule our days more sanely, more humanely, and more relationally. We need not apologize for wanting a good night’s sleep; we need not believe the lie that “well-rested” is a synonym for “sluggardly.”
- Understand God’s will. God never guides us into an intolerable scramble of overworked feverishness. We will gain more time by properly understanding God’s will for us than by all the time-saving suggestions put together.
- Consciously slow the pace of life. The pace of life has become deadly. We simply cannot permit each year to bring an increase in speed and not get caught in the exhausting consequences of such frenzy.
- Define and defend boundaries. Jesus did not minister to everybody in Israel, even though He could have. Remember that it is not necessary to have more compassion than the Almighty.
- Learn to say no. It is easy to say no to a root canal or a colonoscopy. It is far more difficult to say no to things that are interesting and enjoyable. Yet even if everything we are doing is enjoyable, if we do not learn to say no, overload will overwhelm us.
- Get less done, but do the right things. We would do well to consider doing less, but radically prioritizing. Remember, the multiplying coefficient for our labor is the power of the Holy Spirit. The same God who spoke the universe into existence sees our faithful efforts and instructs the Holy Spirit to expand the benefit to whatever level best glorifies Him.
These suggestions seem to coincide with the idea of putting our own oxygen mask on first before trying to help others. As we follow London’s suggestions and walk in the spirit, we can care for ourselves while comforting and encouraging others.
We all have seasons of heavy loads. As you have cared for others, what has been an “oxygen mask” that you have used (i.e. How have you cared for yourself)? In addition to this, what would you like to start doing for better self-care? Post your comment here.