Burnout

A friend passed along a story the other day about schools closing for days or even weeks to prevent teachers from burning out and quitting. Of course, this set off a firestorm with parents, who scrambled to figure out what to do with their kids at the last minute while experiencing their own burnout. Burnout seems to be the word of the day. Pandemic, political unrest, normal life stresses exacerbated by all of it—we’ve just had enough.

It is all very hard, but there is a nugget of something very, very right at the center of all of it. For every layer of something that flames up in our lives and burns out uncovers something a little closer to… an ineffable something that we all feel. It’s like watching a tightly packed ball burn. Each layer burns off slowly, one at a time. It takes some really hot heat to keep it going without restarting the fire. This is not an empty ball, though. There’s something at its core that wants the flame, that needs the fire to ignite it. The something that is calling us away from the things that don’t serve us, toward… what? Does your heart know what I’m talking about? We’re burning out because we’re missing… something. All of us are. And that missing thing is setting our hearts and our lives on fire.

There is gravity at the center of this firestorm…

Looking back over the last few years, I realize that this burning and unravelling is not new to me. It did not with Covid or the political upheavals that have come along with it. Looking back, I see it going back for years—the burning off of the layers I thought held my world together. I write about my divorce often in this blog, not because I’m still grieving my marriage. I write about it because it was a first step for me on a path toward love, the first time I would choose to find love and let everything else fall where it may. Love—and my need for it—broke my marriage.

Fast-forward a few years, and I was still trying to figure out what the love I’d found meant in the rest of my life. I began to see patterns of dysfunction in my romantic relationships. In those patterns, I started to see the difference between what I thought was love and the soul-filling love I experienced in some deep spiritual encounters. The relationships crumbled at the seams where love should have stiched them together. Love—and my need for it—broke those relationships.

With this unfolding, this burning away of layers, I have never lost this feeling of being headed somewhere, of the something better that lies underneath if I just let the layer burn.

I left my job to move on to something that spoke to my heart. 

With each layer that burns, there is chaos and uncertainty in my circumstances, but there is something more solid, more real in my innermost heart. I feel the pull of the gravity at the core of my calling, my existence as a human being.

I left church because the love I found there felt conditional, partial. 

The burning of that particular layer reminds me, of course, of something I learned there—not the lesson, but the words that are beginning to fill with truth in a way I hadn’t seen before:

“Love never fails… but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.”

Can you feel it? The relentless, gravitational pull of love? Can you see the imperfect structures we’ve built to house it cracking and crumbling as real love consumes them? 

If the arc of history bends towards justice, it is drawn there by the gravitational pull of love. And, as with the law of gravity, anything that defies love will eventually bend, then crack, then break and burn away, no matter how good it looks on the outside.

I have faith in the universe and its goodwill toward life. I have hope in the power of good and love to prevail. But those are just the physics equations describing the potential energy of love. Love itself is the wild and unstoppable force that pulls the universe together. When it comes, what we’ve said, the stories we’ve told about what we’ve looked forward to, what we’ve hoped for and our hearts have ached for all burn away in the reality of love itself.

There is gravity at the center of this firestorm, order in this chaos. The familiar parts of our lives are peeling away to uncover the thing we know and need in our deepest heart of hearts.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

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