Helping Without Burnout

by James Rudy Gray

James Rudy Gray

Quite often I get phone calls from parents, grandparents, other relatives, or just friends of someone who "needs counseling."

The request is genuine and the concern for the person they care about is legitimate. However, many people will invariably attempt to instruct me on when to call or what to say or how to help the person in need. My usual answer is, "Please tell the person to call me and I will be glad to set up an appointment to meet with him (or her). I have found it is much more productive for the counselee to contact me rather than me contacting them."

In most cases, one of two things will likely happen next: The person contacting me will simply thank me and I will never hear from the other person, or the person in need will call me for an appointment. There have been rare occasions when someone gets upset because I do not immediately submit to their idea of help for their friend or relative.

When it comes to counseling in the context of the church and the Christian faith, pastors and counselors must be careful not to get trapped into no-win situations. We must also be cautious and not attempt something for which we are not equipped or we know is counter productive from the start. It is okay to say "no." Counselors, like any healthy person, must also have godly boundaries.

I have been amazed at the wisdom and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. He had the power to heal anybody, but He chose not to heal everybody. In fact, when the crowds began to grow larger and larger, He would slip away and pray. He and His disciples were typically on the move. When everything was going great and the crowds were big, He would lead His disciples to another place. When He retreated to the wilderness, the crowds came to Him. Jesus' ministry was to do the will of His Father. That was His spiritual food.

The late Vance Havner used to say to preachers, "If you do not come apart for awhile (meaning relaxation or retreat) you will just come apart (burnout or break down)."

Even though Jesus was God in the flesh, He did not minister directly to everybody. And Christian counselors cannot be everything to everyone. We can, by God's grace, help many people, but we cannot help everybody who needs help. We are limited. We are finite. When we recognize our limitations, we can work more effectively within those parameters. We can certainly do all things through Christ who strengthens us, but we cannot do everything that needs to be done.

Recently I took a week of vacation. I didn't go anywhere, but I worked long hours each day on a home improvement project. It was exhausting work, but it was also refreshing for me. During that time I received several messages. Some people wanted me contact a relative immediately and talk to them because the situation was urgent. I waited until my vacation was over and contacted the people who left the messages. Some had already found help for their loved ones in other places while others were understanding and instructed their relatives in need to call me.

Proverbs presents the harvester ant as a very hard working species. They have no leader and yet they are extremely hardworking and organized. They get a lot done. However, when it is time to hibernate, they hibernate. The balance of work and rest is built into the very creative example of God Himself. He rested on the Sabbath, not because He was tired but because He was finished with His creative work.

When God rested, He was not idle; He was leaving us a principle for life and an example worth following for a stronger and healthier life. Balance in life is the key-especially for Christian workers.

James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the
National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the
American Association of Christian Counselors. He pastors
Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.

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