From Burned Out to Beloved
eBook - ePub

From Burned Out to Beloved

Soul Care for Wounded Healers

Bethany Dearborn Hiser

  1. 208 Seiten
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eBook - ePub

From Burned Out to Beloved

Soul Care for Wounded Healers

Bethany Dearborn Hiser

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Über dieses Buch

As a social worker, jail chaplain, and justice advocate, Bethany Dearborn Hiser pushed herself to the brink of burnout—and then kept going. Stress, despair, and compassion fatigue overwhelmed her ability to function. She was called to serve the abused, addicted, and homeless people in her community. Yet she was emotionally and spiritually exhausted. Something needed to change.Searching for answers, Hiser learned that trauma affects everyone who is exposed to it—not only those experiencing it firsthand. Psychologists call it "secondary trauma." She realized that she needed the very soul care that she was providing to others. From Burned Out to Beloved is Hiser's story of burnout, self-discovery, and spiritual renewal. But more than that, it's a trauma-informed soul care guide for all Christians working in high-stress, helping professions.Whether you're a social worker, therapist, pastor, teacher, or healthcare professional, From Burned Out to Beloved will equip you to confess your limitations, embrace your identity as a beloved child of God, and flourish in your vocation.

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Sometimes resilience arrives in the moment you discover your own unshakeable goodness. . . . And when that happens, we begin to foster tenderness for our own human predicament. A spacious and undefended heart finds room for everything you are and carves space for everybody else.
Prior to burnout, I was working two part-time advocacy jobs that added up to much more than full-time. One of the jobs was with Tierra Nueva, an international Christian ministry based in Burlington, Washington, that loves and accompanies people who are primarily affected by addiction, incarceration, and immigration. The other was at a domestic violence shelter, providing advocacy and support for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Throughout most of my days, I sought to listen empathetically to people’s stories while suppressing my shock and grief at what they shared. Sometimes I let tears show, yet I fought hard to hold my emotions at bay and receive their stories with compassion.
A significant turning point came during a domestic violence advocacy appointment with a primarily Spanish-speaking mother. I was in the midst of translating a letter written by her daughter, who had been detained by immigration. For the first time, the daughter was revealing that she’d been in an abusive relationship for years. She described details of the abuse and revealed the shame that had driven her to keep it a secret.
Her mother’s grief was palpable, yet through her tears, she asked me to continue reading. I read as my own tears started to fall. Suddenly the mother cried out, “Por qué los hombres hacen eso? (“Why do men do this?”) It was a question I myself had been grappling with, and the floodgates opened. We both sobbed and sobbed.
This moment broke something open in me. I lost my ability to listen empathetically and keep my emotions in control. My professional social-work armor of showing care but not being vulnerable had disintegrated. All the unprocessed stories had been piling up in me. I sobbed not just for this mother and her daughter but also for the many who had experienced similar abuse; all those stories I still carried with me. While tears can sometimes be connecting, I wasn’t able to be present with that mother as my own grief poured out.
I left that meeting knowing I needed to make some changes. I couldn’t stem the tide of tears. I took an emergency week off not long after that—to address my own mental health. I felt like I couldn’t function. The grief, stress, lack of boundaries, and accumulated secondary trauma overwhelmed me. I was exhausted physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Desperate for respite, I drove to my parents’ cabin, barely able to see through the tears that flowed. My armor had cracked, and I didn’t know how to handle it.
Without realizing it, I was experiencing textbook burnout. I was overcome by emotional exhaustion, which is at the heart of the “burnout syndrome,” according to Christine Maslach, author of Burnout: The Cost of Caring. “A person gets overly involved emotionally, overextends him- or herself, and feels overwhelmed by the demands imposed by other people. . . . Once emotional exhaustion sets in, people feel they are no longer able to give of themselves to others.” The second burnout symptom is depersonalization, or a “detached, callous and even dehumanized response.” I didn’t want to get to that point of detachment and was grateful I was still able to grieve. Yet I knew I needed to make some changes for my own well-being and to avoid becoming unable to care well for the person in front of me.
Although it took years to feel healthier and more grounded, I began to make some initial adjustments. I quit my job at the domestic violence shelter and moved farther away from the hospital and the center of town to create better boundaries with Tierra Nueva’s pastoral advocacy work. In this newfound space and time, I delved into inner-healing prayer appointments, therapy, and recovery work. I also slowly started integrating new rhythms of rest.


In some ways, burnout can be compared to altitude sickness. A few years ago, my husband and I hiked the Annapurna Trail in the Himalayas. This gorgeous trail starts in a tropical jungle at a low elevation and climbs to a 17,769-foot mountain pass. For many, that might not be appealing, but I was thrilled to be on that hike before heading to Kolkata, India. Aware of the immense privilege, I was aiming to live into my newfound permission to enjoy fun adventures.
Halfway into the trek, I was struggling with a bad cough and diarrhea. After crossing a one-hundred-foot narrow suspension footbridge over a deep ravine at ten thousand feet in elevation, I sat down on a large rock and passed out. I had never passed out before. My terrified husband yelled for help to hikers behind us. Not understanding English, they were about to pass by when they saw a look of desperation on his face.
I woke up surrounded by my husband and a group of Italians. After resting and drinking some water, we retraced our steps back down the mountain, knowing that the remedy for altitude sickness is to go downward.
As this photo of a poster in the Himalayas says, “Descend! Descend! Descend!” Quite literally, if you don’t go down to a lower elevation, you will die.
Ironically, people who are physically fit are more susceptible to altitude sickness. They ascend faster than their bodies can adjust to the higher altitude. They press on, thinking they’re capable, and they don’t listen to their bodies’ cues. While hiking, I had been denying what my body had been communicating to me for days—that I needed to rest and recover. In the same way, we can mistakenly think that we are “above burnout,” that we’re strong enough and don’t need care. But those beliefs make us more susceptible to burning out. We press on, disregarding the need for rest that our body might be communicating through headaches, stomachaches, fatigue, and an inability to think clearly or creatively. We keep going until an emergency hits, and we’re forced to take a break.
Attaining rest can be especially challenging, even if we’re able to change our circumstances or quit our job. Immigrant rights advocate Sayu Bhojwani describes how people of color feel overwhelmed “not just about resources, but also about feeling like we don’t have the time or the luxury to take a break. We feel guilty caring for ourselves, or even for a child or loved one.” She continues, “Denial of our authentic selves, coupled with the scarcity mentality and a competitive culture, wears us down.” Exposure to continuous racism and institutionalized oppression can cause people of color to develop post-traumatic stress syndromes. Housing insecurity, illness, family issues, and gender discrimination may also compound workplace trauma. It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed by the weight of the work and surrounding realities.
Other organizational pressures and unhealthy workplace dynamics also increase the likelihood of burnout. In America’s white-dominated environments, it’s all too common for exhaustion to be a barometer for success. Busier is better. I’ve felt ashamed for being at home sleeping instead of out at midnight like my colleague, who drove to visit young women sitting beside their gunshot boyfriends at the trauma center. Instead of honoring one another’s hard work and welcoming our limitations, we act as though tiredness is proof that we’re loving and caring for people well.
Many face a high level of need and an intense client/student/patient caseload with little support and heavy paperwork requirements. Some teachers buy breakfast for students because schools and parents can’t provide it. Social workers often manage extra-large caseloads because of lack of funding. Societal systems of injustice and oppression feel out of our control. We’re weighed down and aggrieved by the hunger, abuse, neglect, and mental illness that we witness.
Many have had to learn how to breathe at toxic altitudes. The ability to descend can be especially difficult, and thriving—let alone surviving—depends on finding ways to do so, even though trauma takes its toll.
Social workers, church leaders, ministry workers, therapists, foster parents, medical professionals, and teachers are often passionately serving our communities, yet all too often we are burning out and leaving the work. As noted in a 2018 Leadership Resources article, “[Fifteen hundred] pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.”
What if instead of busyness being the barometer, we encouraged one another to work with greater self-awareness and to live grounded and at peace?
What if we acknowledged our wounds instead of pretending they don’t affect us?
What if we reckoned with how we have experienced oppression or privilege and with how that has diminished our view of ourselves and others?
What if we honestly engaged with the internal beliefs and values that distort our self-perception and gave ourselves permission to thrive?
What if we served out of a deep certainty that we—and all people—are beloved, just as we are, regardless of how we change or help others to change?
Just as with altitude sickness, the remedy for burnout is to go down and rest. Although physical changes may be required, the descent is largely into our own depths, where we explore our barriers and connect with the deep well of God’s presence within us.


Many social workers would say that self-care is important, but in practice we feel that it’s one more thing to do with no time to do it. Institutional encouragement to practice self-care is...


  1. Cover
  2. Title Page
  3. Dedication Page
  4. Contents
  5. Introduction: Confessions of a Social Justice Workaholic
  6. Part One: Centering
  7. Part Two: Unpacking
  8. Part Three: Recovering
  9. Part Four: Thriving
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgments
  12. Appendix One: Grounding Practices
  13. Appendix Two: Reflections and Prayer Exercises
  14. Notes
  15. Praise for From Burned Out to Beloved
  16. About the Author
  17. More Titles from InterVarsity Press
  18. Copyright
Zitierstile für From Burned Out to Beloved

APA 6 Citation

Hiser, B. D. (2020). From Burned Out to Beloved ([edition unavailable]). InterVarsity Press. Retrieved from (Original work published 2020)

Chicago Citation

Hiser, Bethany Dearborn. (2020) 2020. From Burned Out to Beloved. [Edition unavailable]. InterVarsity Press.

Harvard Citation

Hiser, B. D. (2020) From Burned Out to Beloved. [edition unavailable]. InterVarsity Press. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Hiser, Bethany Dearborn. From Burned Out to Beloved. [edition unavailable]. InterVarsity Press, 2020. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.