When I think of the magnitude of the task facing social workers, I am struck by how incredibly inadequate we are for job that we have been called to. It would be easier for us to hold back a tidal wave or to stop a hurricane than it is for us to deal with the aftermath of wars, famines, human cruelty and unstoppable diseases. In short we are too small for the job. And I think, in the end, that that is the point.
The issue of burnout comes when we believe that we should be equal to the task. That God has called us and expects us to complete job ourselves. But when I look at Scripture that is not the message that I get. The way that Jesus dealt with His calling is a clue. First of all, He didn’t heal every sick person in Israel or even the world when He came. He didn’t even heal every sick person in Jerusalem. He didn’t make all the blind to see or all the lame to walk. Instead, He healed the ones who were in front of Him – the ones He had been given to heal. Secondly, Jesus often would remove Himself from the work to go up into the mountains to pray. He would seek the One Who called Him and find His strength there. And He multiplied Himself. He poured Himself into the three, and the twelve who in turn poured themselves into those they trained, mentored and discipled.
One of my favorite stories from when Jesus was physically present on Earth is the feeding of the 5000. Other than the resurrection, this is the only miracle listed in all four gospels (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:5-15..) The passage from John 6 is as follows:
5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii[a] worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.
I love the way this passage starts – Jesus sees a great need and asks His disciples how they are going to deal with the issue. Notice Philip’s self-sufficiency and practical answer. Here he is standing with the Creator of the universe, and Philip tells Him that they don’t have enough money to feed each person even a few bites. In the Mark passage, Jesus tells them go find out how much food they do have. Can you imagine the disciples’ announcement: “May I have your attention please! Will anyone with any food please bring it to us for distribution among the crowd.”
And this boy brings the disciples his lunch. Now, I don’t know if you have ever been around little boys and packed lunches, but I have. Imagine the hot Israeli sun beating down on this boy’s lunch basket all day long. Imagine him dragging it around the desert while his folks listened to Jesus, and he played hide and seek with his friends. By the end of the day, those fish probably stunk as only hot fish can and those loaveswere probably crushed and stale. But what I love about this little boy is that he wasn’t ashamed that what he had wasn’t enough. He wasn’t embarrassed by the shape of his lunch. He simply brought it to Jesus. It is not the sufficiency of the lunch that fed the 5000 that evening. It was the One Who held it. You see Jesus never said that we were enough. That we are equal to the task. In fact, I think the best starting place is knowing that we are horrendously insufficient. He simply asks us to bring it to him. Because He can take our 5 crushed, stale loaves and our 2 smelly fish and create a feast great enough to feed a multitude.
One of my all time favorite verses is Ps. 103:14: “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”
I realize this may be a strange life verse, but you see, sometimes we forget that He never, ever said that we are more than what we are. We are dust – very expensive dust mind you – paid for by the blood of Jesus – but only dust – limited, weak and far from sufficient. But the One Who feeds the 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish, the One who takes pots of water and makes incredible wine, the One Who endures a crucifixion and turns it into eternal life – He is the One Who calls us. He remembers our weakness and is mindful of our limits. He never turns up His nose at our smelly fish. Instead, He gives thanks and distributes it to those who are in need.
When I think of God in the flesh – of Jesus choosing to set aside His omnipotent powers to take on human flesh, I can only imagine the potential for either sin or burnout. The need pressed in on Him every time He set foot off the mountain. He could have at any moment taken up His omnipotence and healed every person that was sick, raised every dead soul. No more pain, no more sorrow, no more sickness. But you see, if He had, we would have been condemned to an eternity of sin, sickness, death and sorrow. And so He didn’t. And for One so deeply moved by compassion and love that He wept even knowing He would raise Lazarus from the dead, He entrusted those He could not touch into the hands of His loving Father. And as we follow in His steps, we too must remember that we are not turning our backs on those we cannot help, but rather we are entrusting them to One Who loves them more than we ever can.