That well describes America's health care providers. So, not surprisingly, the problem of burnout was a topic that came up often at the recent Conference on Medicine and Religion in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During opportunities for small group discussions, physicians shared their personal stories.
One young Yale graduate and mother of two complained of her work-life imbalance, stemming from the $180k medical school debt hanging over her and no way out of a system that left her with very little free time.
Another conference attendee shared how the hospital where she works had introduced an MBSR program (John Kabat-Zinn's "Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction") to help minimize job stress. The program certainly appeared to make a difference in the mental states of the staff. But instead of bringing about higher productivity in the workplace, greater mindfulness about what they were doing led a surprising number of the employees to conclude that their pathway to stress reduction was to leave their jobs.
I especially appreciated the opening comments from one of the conference organizers, who said: "This conference begins with God because the starting point for knowing truthfully and living rightly is knowing God."
His words reminded me of the Scripture: "And you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free."
These are the words of Jesus, who drew multitudes to his side for healing and gave a sermon that is one of the greatest blueprints for a refreshing and satisfying life. His capacity for solving the unsolvable, working day and night and enduring both criticism and abuse with grace, humility and wisdom can be an inspiration to anyone feeling burned out.
Perhaps key to this ability was the fact he never looked to his own human strength or intelligence for truthful answers. He looked to God and always took time for prayer. Jesus reminded his followers: "I can of mine own self do nothing..."
While Jesus might feel like an example way beyond us, a tireless worker who followed his teachings discerned that there were laws behind his ability that anyone can rely on. Mary Baker Eddy articulated the nature and practical application of these laws as a Science Jesus practiced. It was an understanding that God is the infinite source of wisdom and strength that is expressed by each one of us.
Eddy described the benefits of this understanding for those in the workforce when she wrote that ". . . business men and cultured scholars have found that Christian Science enhances their endurance and mental powers, enlarges their perception of character, gives them acuteness and comprehensiveness and an ability to exceed their ordinary capacity" (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 128).
By contrast, life inevitably loses its luster when our careers revolve around a perceived personal source for our energy, intelligence, or finances.
One young doctor at the conference spoke of a time he was suffering career burnout. Prior to this, he had regularly attended church, but his rigorous schedule soon demanded his time on Sundays, too. He began to feel physically ill, worn down, and unmotivated. At that point his pastor paid him a surprise visit, bringing church right to his office. That one gesture of compassion and support was enough to get him back on track to find balance in his life again. His schedule didn't immediately change, but his priorities did. He started to put God and prayer back at the center of his routine and the career fatigue receded.
Our light cannot be stifled by burnout when we recognize that our intelligence and purpose come from an inexhaustible, spiritual source. This knowledge brings the wisdom both to restore and maintain balance in our lives.