“15 hours”

“That’s crazy” he responded and headed to bed.

When my husband asked me this question I paused to think.

The question came at 11 pm and I still had my computer open, stretching my neck every 10 minutes from looking down at the screen for hours.

It was a weird feeling.

I felt both proud and ashamed when I answered him.

Proud and ashamed. 

Neither of these emotions are positive, yet they seemed opposite on the spectrum.

I felt proud because I equate success to working hard, getting things done and helping others.

Yet, I felt ashamed.

After all, I am an advocate of self-care, creating boundaries and attempting to create a work/life balance and here I was burning the candle at both ends.

Oh, the irony.

I immediately justified my feelings, to only myself of course because I sat alone while my family was in bed.

“I wasn’t really working all day. I stopped and made dinner for my family and I called and supported a friend who was going through a difficult time. Anyway, it’s only because I have a big deadline at the end of the week.” 

All excuses. And they all sounded an awful lot like work and service to others, didn’t they?

I felt proud because as I looked at my list — yes I make lists every day, ahem — there were so many items crossed off.

I accomplished sooooooo much!  

Emails answered.

Phone calls, done.

Decisions, made.

Tasks completed.

Yet, my list had items that remained undone.

 

Was I really expecting to get it all done in one day?

Did I place these expectations on myself or did someone else expect this much of me?

As leaders, it can be difficult to bear the weight of responsibility. And this leads us to be driven by achievement.

I feel proud when I help someone or when I cross items off my list.

As a human, I see beautiful days go by. In the meantime, I’ve been outside only to go from building to car and back again.

I feel ashamed that I didn’t stop and enjoy life outside my computer.

 

I am not a Pastor. I have spent the last 15 years supporting and serving others in a clinical setting.

So when I look at the work of a ministry leader I am amazed at how much pressure they experience and how tempting it must be to work long hours.

To be called and divinely set apart to serve others; would make it very difficult to say “no” or set boundaries.

So the expectation is often that a ministry leader is available 24/7. 

Christianity Today reported that 57% of Protestant churches in America today have fewer than 100 people and 44% only have one or fewer full-time staff members.

As a sole staff person, it would be incredibly difficult to find work/life balance as there is no one else to support, help and share the responsibility of supporting the church needs.

The conversation with my husband reminded me of a few years ago when I was experiencing burnout and compassion fatigue.

In the early stages of burnout, people often work more not less.

They dive headfirst into their work and develop an over-exaggerated sense of responsibility. This is not a result of narcissism or a power trip. But because they are needed at every turn, that draw to be needed can be powerful.

The intense workload of a ministry leader with no end or break in sight can cause someone to feel hopeless and get into a weekly routine and quickly becoming weary of the grind.

 

Compassion fatigue causes you to be numb to what your needs are. 

During the time I experienced compassion fatigue I would get a call from work during dinner asking if I would cover the overnight on-call shift.

I responded to the call during dinner and then took the shift.

When I returned to dinner I didn’t even realize that I rudely left the table and accepted more work without consulting my family.

I was needed. I couldn’t say no. 

I pushed away my needs and my family’s needs.

So when my husband asked me how many hours I had worked that day, it was a warning sign.

A realization that I needed to rebalance.

It was slipping back into the habit of needing to be needed and not realizing how it was impacting others.

Click here to test your levels of burnout and compassion fatigue.