On a recent holiday weekend, I found myself sick and mentally burned out. I somewhat hesitantly prescribed myself a day of bed rest, during which I binge-watched some of my favorite television shows.
In between episodes, two images kept running through my mind. The first was of the merry-go-round that formed the highlight of my childhood park visits during the 1970s and 1980s. Such merry-go-rounds are rarely seen today; lawsuits undoubtedly banned them along with the metal seesaws that had the habit of leaving you nearly unconscious if your partner jumped off unexpectedly.
I recently read a Wall Street Journal article about how some offices have begun instituting policies to force their employees to take vacation because it’s detrimental to their work if they don’t. The employees have to sign pledges not to check email, etc., while they are on vacation, and their colleagues are banned from contacting those on vacation. Kudos to these businesses.
Another article noted the ill-effects of burnout among Germans, though they work the fewest hours of all developed countries. The phenomenon even inspired a theatrical production entitled, “BurnOut, das Musical.” Mental burn-out is all too prevalent in a society that never shuts down, and not only do people not know how to stop, we are increasingly less aware of the fact that we need to stop.
The other thing I kept thinking of while I lay recovering was my favorite prophet, Elijah. Sadly, Elijah is often overshadowed by his predecessor, Moses. After all, it is difficult to compete with a burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea, and the theophany that gave us the Ten Commandments. Charlton Heston memorialized Moses in a way no one has for Elijah.
But whereas Moses acts in a performance written and directed by God, Elijah produces his own show.
Driven into exile by the notoriously cruel Queen Jezebel and her puppet/husband, King Ahab (1 Kings 18-19), Elijah spends years hiding in a cave, eating whatever scraps Obadiah can scrounge up for him during the famine Elijah himself had predicted.
Elijah ought to be the patron of type-A personalities everywhere, or of anyone who feels weakened by the burdens of a busy life. He throws himself into his work with great gusto and then quickly burns himself out. Yet, because he is doing the work of God, he receives nourishment, strength and encouragement, and he is able to continue until the moment when God fittingly seizes his faithful prophet in whirlwind of fire (2 Kings 2:11).
No matter what our personality types or our missions in life, if we strive to do God’s work, we can learn from Elijah: work hard, but play hard, too. Take a break. Go on retreat, say the rosary, binge-watch your favorite television program. Do something to nourish yourself. Then hop back on the merry-go-round. Elijah would surely agree that it’s worth the ride.
Annmarie McLaughlin is chairperson of the Diocesan Pastoral Council.