“Expectations and Burnout”

Having stepped directly into a patch of stinging nettles in bare feet yesterday, today is a sit-around-with-feet-up day. A day to read and be grateful for Benadryl. Abba, having his unique timing, sent me a new book just yesterday – “Expectations and Burnout” by Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss. Let me tell you, these ladies are singing my story. And that’s not a bragging point.

I’m not going to tell you my story just yet. It will come in time. But I want to put some snippets here…. because the point of this book is WHY Villa Sollievo!

Background: Sue Eenigenburg is a missionary. This book was born out of her research for a grad school thesis paper. Robynn Bliss is a missionary, who lends her story to the book. Power.Full. I’m grateful they put all this into the book I now hold in my hands. I am certain there will be more than one post from this book.

“By trying to keep up the image of a good missionary (Chester, 1983), missionaries may admit to burnout too late to get the help they need to stay in their chosen profession. This late admission might not be intentional; often missionaries can be unaware of the amount of stress they are under (Chester, 1983).” (*remember, this was a thesis paper*)

“…living with a huge amount of stress had begun to feel normal.”

“Vander Pol (1994) agrees with Koteskey (n.d.) about the susceptibility of first-term workers and shares research done by Lindquist (1982), who reported that up to 50 percent of first-term missionaries return early or do not return after their first term.”

“Due to this pressure for missionaries to appear close to perfect and reluctance to be open to sharing struggles, missionaries can hide many of the symptoms of burnout until is it impossible to do so any longer due to its severity.”

She sites six sources of expectations that put pressure on pastors/missionaries that are different than in secular professions:

1. Self. (Our own expectations of what “ministry” looks like)

2. Sending church: Wondering if we let our supporters down by not having as many tangible results as we would like and they might expect

3. Mission agency: (training is often inadequate, not relevant, or easily forgotten)

4: Fellow missionaries: looking forward to having best friends on our teams and feeling disillusioned with relationships.

5. National friends and host culture: expecting that we will love everyone we meet and letting our misunderstanding of a new culture color our view of people

6. God: trying to understand our disappointment with God and talk about it when we are not supposed to feel disappointment with him, but know we should trust Him no matter what.”

Then Robynn tells her story. Twelve years on the field doing what God had called them to do and happy to be obedient to their call, but…

“We had reached the basement. We were burnt out. And it wasn’t just Lowell. It was me, too. How on earth had we gotten to this place? We had been advocates and models in taking weekly Sabbath rest, in booking two-week vacations, in getting out of the heat of summer for three to four weeks. What had gone wrong? How did we end up like this?”

The answer to that question is that for people serving in a different culture than they grew up in, the stresses accumulate faster than a “normal holiday” can cure. They need professional help from people who understand their unique needs and have tools to help them recover – and prevent – burnout. It takes someone proactively investing in them, asking about their hearts, completely invested in their health- spiritual, emotional, and physical.

This is why Villa Sollievo.

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