(Stage One: Caring) Bob cares, or at least he used to. Bob cared about his family (actively involved with his children and feeling disappointed whenever he can’t regularly take his wife on a date). Bob cared about people (at work, in his small group, children, the homeless, and the lost overseas). Bob cared about his work (passionate about his career, advancing up the corporate ladder, and wanting his reputation to be a good example of Christ). Everyone liked Bob and wanted to be like Bob.
(Stage Two: Unfocused or Unrealistic Expectations) “Caring” is a fire that burns, and burning fires require fuel. The problem was that the better Bob did at anything, the more everything came to him as a “great opportunity.” Bob cared, so he tried to honor every “open door” God brought into his life. Soon there were more care-fires than there was Bob to burn, and he started to be consistently tired; not just physically tired, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually tired.
(Stage Three: Fatigue) Frequently Bob began to find that he didn’t have “it” to give to his family, work, church, or friends. His talent and likeability covered things well enough that few people could notice; except his wife. But instead of taking this as a caution to slow down, Bob felt guilty that he wasn’t able to give his best anymore and secretly began to wonder if he had risen above his actual ability in every area of life (could he continue to be a good husband, good father, good manager, good small group leader, etc…). At first this guilt and shame provided a great energy boost and got him “back in the game.” This happened several times over the course of a couple of years. He thought maybe it was a mild bout of depression or fatigue, so he started taking some vitamin supplements and trying to work out more often. That helped… for a while.
(Stage Four: Motivation by Guilt or Shame) But the fatigue kept coming back. Bob tried not to notice, but he could tell he was becoming more cynical. Bob was a caring guy who was starting not to care. He would help when needs arose, but it began to feel like a burden and his once tender heart towards others was growing callous. Now even the guilt he felt about not caring wasn’t enough to jar him back into tender-hearted love. A sense of duty and not wanting to disappoint his family was about all Bob had left. Strangely, this began to cause Bob to resent his family. As he realized this, he saw that he had already begun to avoid his friends. Those who wanted Bob to be “Bob” just “don’t understand me anymore and create too much pressure” was the thought that he kept finding himself repeating. The belief emerged that only Bob was going to take care of Bob; everyone else would just take from Bob.
(Stage Five: Callousness or Cynicism) While Bob was going through the motions of work, home, and ministry (in that priority now), he was making sense of life in a whole new way. Life had become a black and white movie with a theme of duty and responsibility. Now anything that introduced color with freedom and excitement was deemed “good.” Surprisingly, Bob kept wrestling with the fact that these things had all be deemed “bad” before—the attention from his secretary who was just there to serve him and seemed to genuinely care, the couple of drinks at night that were faithful to take the edge off, and the impulse purchases that showed Bob he could do what he wanted. Bob’s wife and “old friends” (as he now thought of them) would raise concerns about these things. This only reinforced his now firmly held cynical belief that they didn’t care about him, were judgmental, and pushed him further into isolation.
(Stage Six: Failure or Crisis) Predictably, Bob’s work performance fell, he starting having an affair with his secretary, and the drinking grew beyond “a couple.” Over a two month period everything started to come to light—his wife noticed the extra spending and found “questionable” (as she tried to politely called them) e-mails with the secretary, confronted him, persisted through his denials, and started to piece together the truth. With the separation that followed, the affair became public knowledge at work too. Within two more months Bob was fired, had a temp job, was living in an apartment with his secretary, only saw his kids for about an hour a week at McDonalds, and was under discipline at his church. When the dust settled, Bob was shocked and sickened. When he permitted himself to ask, “What happened?” his emotions fluctuated from intense shame-guilt to cold anger-bitterness then retreated back into numb callousness.
(Stage Seven: Realization) How could he have gotten here? How could he have been as mean to his wife and friends as he was when his sin came to light? How could his conscience have missed that he was slipping into such dangerous patterns? He had taught classes at church on the dangers of everything he had done and gotten rave reviews about how good they were. Why was he just now starting to care again? Now caring hurt so bad that he almost didn’t want to come out of his cynical stupor and when Bob talked to any of his “old friends” he found himself quickly getting defensive and retreating within his calloused conscience.
You can order my booklet on burnout here.