Burn out burned down my structure.
I had a ton going on. I was a senior in high school. I went to school for half the morning, and then I spent the rest of my day taking college classes at my local university. I was a cross country runner, a member of the National Honors Society, and a worship leader for my school’s chapter of FCA. I should also mention I spent 12-18 hours a week volunteering at my church’s worship ministry.
As if that wasn’t enough, I also had an eating disorder.
I don’t think I chose to be that busy. It just kind of swallowed me in. As a chronic people pleaser with a fear of saying no to others, I just kept adding things to my life. So eating was my coping mechanism. In a desperate effort to hold onto some semblance of control, I controlled what I ate.
Except it controlled me.
I didn’t realize I was tired until it was already too late. Burnout has a way of doing that; it sucks you in and steals your breath without you even realizing it. Looking back, the signs were clear:
- I was stressed
- I was emotional
- I coped by controlling what I could (ie, my eating disorder)
- I was truthfully out of control, but disillusion kept me from recognizing it was so
Thankfully, my mom could see right through me. Her confrontation made me realize my life was unsustainable. Throwing up every night in my backyard hidden by the dark was no way to live. I needed help.
So the structure burned down. The picture perfect Christian girl life I had wonderfully constructed came crashing down. I quit ministry. I stopped leading worship. I skipped youth group. I started going to counseling. I even started dating some boy I had just met.
I was convinced I had failed. I failed God. I didn’t live up to the standards and expectations He set for me. I especially failed other people. They had to be disappointed in me. I can clearly remember thinking, “I don’t even recognize myself anymore. Am I even following the Lord anymore?”
Burn out burned down my outward structure, and with it burned the inward identity so deeply engrained within that structure. I didn’t know who I was anymore because I identified myself so much with the structure that was now gone. I was left empty on the inside with a free schedule on the outside. It was terrifying.
And, goodness it was fun!
I had to do something with my time to take my mind off of whatever self I had left. So I started relearning how to live. I went to a haunted house. I jumped on trampolines. I played powder puff football and had my first kiss. I skipped school, ate Buffalo Wild Wings, stayed out late, and had the time of my life.
Some people thought I had gone off the deep end (including myself), but actually the most healing thing for me to do in the moment was to learn how to live freely.
I built a structure to contain my life because fear told me I needed to control it. Fear told me I needed to look a certain way to prove to myself, my parents, my church, and my God that I could reach their expectations and standards. I placed rules around the rules to protect myself from messing up, but really I was just afraid of losing control.
While I was busy chasing after some boy, God did a work in my heart. He changed my perception. I realized I could actually follow the Lord freely without having to live up to any expectations. Everything is already offered to me through Christ! Churches expect me to come on Sundays, schools expect me to get good grades, and parents expect me to call home from time to time, but only one thing eternally matters and it is this: Life is meant to be lived freely in a relationship with God, marked with the holiness and integrity that only comes through Him.
Who fulfills the expectations God has placed on me? JESUS. Not me.
All I have to do is let Him get rid of that blasted structure.
God chose burn out to burn down my structure, and I am so glad He did. By the grace of Christ, I am free to live.
I’m still dating that boy, by the way.