Shepherd’s Care: The Downward Spiral (5)

If we do not tend to burnout, we fall to the final level in Dr. Archibald Hart’s “downward spiral”—depression.

To briefly summarize, we move from Stress (“I can handle it”), to Fatigue (“I cannot handle it”), and then to Burnout (“I don’t want to handle it”).  If we don’t deal with the  burnout, we enter into depression (“It’s handling me”).

Technically speaking, I’m outside the scope of Oboedire to write about depression.  That’s best left to the professionals.  It is a complicated, multi-layered, acute/chronic experience.  It can range from mild to severe manifestations.  But it is the point where we begin ceasing to function as we ought.  It can include skewed thoughts, feelings, and actions.  But they combine in ways that make us incapable living healthy lives and practicing valid ministry.

We are exhausted.  We don’t feel  tired or numb, we feel “dead.”  We don’t feel guilty or care-less, we feel hopeless.  We begin to live with a “nothing is ever going to change”—perspective.  We feel stuck.

Previous stages in the downward spiral should be addressed in community, but this one requires it.  We cannot pull ourselves out alone.  We must have help.  The problem is, by the time we get to this point, we may have entered into isolation and resistance to help.  It is at such times that we must trust the wisdom of those who know and love us best, as they guide us to seek counsel and the cure which can come from it.

As we end our overview of the downward spiral, it’s important to remember that none of these levels is shameful.  They are simply the result of attempting to be and do “too much for too long.”  They are the result of excessive over-reach.  But none of them are beyond the reach of the God who loves us and never stops seeking for and saving us when we lose our way.  “Grace” is the last word spoken every moment of our lives.

About jstevenharper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
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