“You find it hard to get up and go to work in the morning. Work used to be exciting and you used to look forward to what you did with people, but now you are just tired and it takes a great deal of effort to get out of bed. You wonder what is wrong. Could it be that you are suffering from burnout? Could a really committed missionary burn out? You may only be in your first term; certainly you couldn’t burn out in just a few years, could you? Wouldn’t God keep you from burning out? Is it better to burn out than to rust out? What about that old gospel song that says, “Let me burn out for thee, dear Lord?” Let’s consider some of these questions.
How do I know if I’m burning out?
Although feeling tired and not wanting to go to work may be a part of burnout, there is more to burnout than that. Burnout happens to those in the helping professions, such as doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, pastors, and missionaries. Three major symptoms of burnout are:
The exhaustion is more than physical it is emotional, “compassion fatigue.” You feel drained. You feel used up. You feel overwhelmed by the needs people come with. It is not that you don’t want to help, you just do not have what it takes to help any more.
To shield yourself, you begin to reduce your close involvement with others. You begin not to notice the nationals who need help. You ignore their requests. You begin to be discourteous to the very people you came to serve. You tend to become tough, hard, and cynical, putting nationals down. You view people as objects. You used to view nationals through rose-colored glasses; now you wear rust-colored glasses.
Reduced personal accomplishment
Whether or not you actually become ineffective, you feel ineffective. You begin to sense you are becoming the kind of person people do not like. You used to be sensitive and caring, but you realize you are becoming cold and indifferent. You see that you are not accomplishing what you felt God called you to do, and you wonder if you still hear him. Burnout is the result of continual stress over a long period of time rather than great stress over a short one. Burnout does not happen overnight, but it creeps up on you without your realizing it. Other missionaries usually notice it long before you do, but if you check yourself periodically, you can detect it. Burnout is not a psychiatric disorder, but is a phenomenon that will greatly reduce your effectiveness as a missionary in addition to what it does to you and your family…..”