Convocation panel addresses the burnout question

By Wendy Webber ’13 M.A.R.

During convocation week, Yale Divinity graduates Will Mebane ’06 M.Div., Talitha Arnold ’80 M.Div., and Bonita Grubbs ’84 M.A.R led a panel discussion about finding one’s vocation and the struggle to avoid burnout.  Speaking to graduates in the classes of 2005, ‘06, and ’07, all three panelists came to the same conclusion: be flexible.

Mebane serves as canon at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, OH; Arnold is senior pastor at the United Church of Santa Fe in New Mexico; and Grubbs is executive director of Christian Community Action in New Haven, CT.

After graduation from Yale Divinity School, all found themselves in liminal spaces, not sure where to go or what to do.  But being without a plan turned out to be a blessing.  While discerning their calling, they were able to play and discover.  Every interim job she took, every community she entered, every decision she made, were “always things that led to the next thing” said Grubbs in describing the circuitous path that led to where she is now.

Arnold asked the group to give credit for the switchbacks on their paths and to allow themselves heartbreak.

Mebane observed that there were some really dark times just after graduation.  But out of, and because of, that period of darkness came the period he is in now, Mebane explained, adding, “it doesn’t get any better.”

All agreed that authentic, spiritual mentors are invaluable and often come from the most unlikely sources—therapists, professors outside the field of religion, and religious leaders beyond the Christian community.  But the panelists also advised not to be afraid to remove false mentors from one’s life, like a pastor who has encouraging words but discouraging actions.

Mebane still meets twice monthly with his prayer group that formed when he was at YDS.  The members have moved around the country, so they have to meet by phone, but Mebane vows never to let go of them because they sustain his journey.

What to do once one finds a vocation?  How doe one keep it invigorating and engaging?  Arnold advises to build rest into one’s schedule and to never exhaust all of one’s energy, to keep some in reserve.  The next hurdle will likely be taller.  Grubbs agreed.  “Take serious rest and reflection,” she said, and allow shifts and changes to keep burnout at bay.  Completing Grubbs’s thought, Arnold added, “if you can’t change jobs, change the job.”

Grubbs recalled that for much of her ministry she has been surrounded by people who did not understand what she wanted to do.   “Which is okay,” she quipped. “I didn’t either.”

Sometimes being lost is an important part of the journey.  The panelists’ journeys have been journeys of highs and lows that have taken them to unexpected places.  But they find themselves exactly where they need and want to be.  If at some point that changes, chances are they’ll be flexible.

Posted: 11/06/2011