I am suffering from burnout. Until the other day, I hadn’t noticed it as a specific complaint.

The symptoms?

  • A sense that nothing means anything any more.
  • Every climb of the ant up the anthill will be followed by a fall of the tumbling ant.
  • I’ll die soon and my funeral will be the Flop of the Social Season. No one will come. The rabbi will have to call it off.
  • I feel faint, climbing stairs no higher than the ones I go up and down daily in our three-story home.
  • Should I call our medical complex, see the paramedic today for a referral – to the emergency room, for example?

On the other hand, some tempering reflections come to mind:

(1) I have three book projects running concurrently,

(2) I also write this weekly column,

(3) one of my books-in-progress has just run up against steep hurdles,

(4) a friend I care about has seemed to me to warrant much concern and

(5) it’s been a long time since I’ve taken even a short vacation.

Finally, after a day or two, it did occur to me to itemize all the above. At which point, I noticed that I was getting badly overdrawn on my energy accounts. Could it be that I was mistaking physical depletion for metaphysical despair?

I wonder how often people do that. We think we’ve got a heavy case of alienation, existential angst, deconstruction-of-identity, bodily deterioration in every organ and cell – and all we’ve really got is over-tiredness.

The other day, in my Saturday morning Torah Study group at my temple, we were reflecting on the topic of the sabbath in Leviticus 23:3. On the sabbath, one is supposed to rest, not work.

 “What is rest?” Janet asked.

 “What is rest for you?” asked Rabbi Delcau, answering her with another question.

 “Museums, “ she said.

As for me, I couldn’t have said. Rest is hard for me.

“The commandment to keep the Sabbath,” Ken, another member of the group, said, “seems to have been observed by God solo, before it was given to anyone else. This makes it unlike the other commandments.” Ken referenced Genesis 2:2-3, where we are told that God rested on the seventh day, after He completed the work of creation but before He had commanded anybody to do anything.

When we keep the day of rest, are we honoring the fact that God rested? Does God need rest? If so, is that why we too need it, because we are created in God’s image? Who can say? These are questions.

There is a rhythm in life, diurnal, systolic and diastolic, of inhalation and exhalation. We are not immune from the rhythms of creation and neither, perhaps, is the Creator who is near to us.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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2 Responses to “Burnout”

  1. Brian Hennessy says:

    Abigail – Please, stretch out on my couch. Relax. Sip a cool lemonade. Empty your mind of all cares and concerns. And allow me to share one small piece of wisdom drawn from my long exhausting life, and see if it is not the key to your mysterious unrest.

    Of all that has taxed my energies the most, none leaves me more washed out than not deciding. This is especially true when it concerns spiritual matters. Jacov (James) in the New Testament describes our back and forth to be like “the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” Its name is Doubt. This almost always occurs when God is showing me the way forward, indeed urging me, and I can’t engage my will to comply. It is this doubt that sucks the life out of me in spite of numerous doses of mega-vitamins.

    If this is the reason behind your ‘burn out’ the solution is simple. Just ask God to make very clear to you whatever He is speaking to you about and choose to go forward with Him – no matter what. That’s when the sweet rest will come. It will no doubt entail a small step of blind faith. But like Father Abraham, know that even though you have no idea where your decision will take you He won’t steer you wrong. He’ll even provide the energy to do so.

    “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” For there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest [by obeying His voice] has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.” (Hebrews 4:9,10)

    If that isn’t it, try a piece of Dove dark chocolate after lunch.

    • Abigail says:

      Thank you Brian for the good will that shines through your Comment. Although I do agree that there is a tiredness you can get from resisting God’s guidance, I know that what I was writing about here was exhaustion pure and simple. It was just nap time. That being my trouble, thanks for the Dove chocolate (is that the brand you recommend?) — and especially for the beautiful verse!

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