Leading on Empty
- Thursday, January 22, 2009
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion by Wayne Cordeiro (Bethany House).
We don't forget that we are Christians. We forget that we are human, and that one oversight alone can debilitate the potential of our future.
It arrived without warning like an uninvited guest. Decisions that were once simple now refused solution, and I found myself dodging anything that required my emotional input. My once stalwart faith was left fragile; I avoided whatever required my action.
It was a balmy California evening. I had gone for a jog before I was to speak at a leadership conference. I still can't recall how I got there, but I found myself sitting on a curb weeping uncontrollably. I couldn't tell if it took place suddenly or gradually, but I knew something had broken inside. I remember lifting my trembling hands and asking out loud, "What in the world is happening to me?"
I had been leading on empty.
That incident on a California curb began a three-year odyssey I could never have imagined. It was a journey through a season of burnout and recalibration that would radically change my lifestyle, my values, my goals, and even adjust my calling. Everything I had blissfully taken for granted was about to come under brutal scrutiny.
My vision for the church was barren, and the once alive heart that beat incessantly for others had begun to shrink. Each day that passed was taking a toll on me, but I didn't know how to stop the bleeding. Whatever was causing the drain was winning.
If I had been alert, I might have seen the signs before that curbside meltdown and recognized them for what they were. But for some reason, I ignored them.
One of the common anesthetics that numbs us to these dark harbingers is thinking, "It could never happen to me!"
But the signs were all around me. I ignored them. Simple problems refused solution. Anything that necessitated emotional energy sent me in the other direction. My faith was bruised and fragile. My confident demeanor had turned pensive, and a soul that used to be an ocean of life was now a stagnant tide pool.
What had broken loose on that mild twilight run? Was it an emotional hemorrhage? If so, how would I stem the bleeding? I had no idea where to begin the triage. I had to figure out what was happening, how to somehow repair the inner damage.
But who has time for that?
My schedule determined my song and an inner conductor set the rhythm. I was simply playing the part that had been given to me, and I didn't know if I could change the score.
In this case, the road to success and the road to a nervous breakdown were one and the same.
Over the ensuing months, I would wrestle with bouts of depression, losing some rounds but continuing the fight. With the help of a doctor, an understanding wife, a supportive church, and the strength and wisdom of God, I would survive a course of invaluable life lessons that would demand the highest tuition I have ever paid.
My love for God had not abandoned me. My marriage was stable, and the ministry seemed healthy. But I still had no idea how to confront the silent predator that was stalking me—sometimes far behind and at other times, so close I could feel its breath on my neck.
If there were a pill I could have swallowed that would have kept me from this inner collapse, I'm glad I didn't find it.
Suffering will change us, but not necessarily for the better. We have to choose that. And it was the choosing that made all the difference for me.
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