A few weeks ago I listened in my car to an interview with the Belgian psychologist Mrs Elke Geraerts. One of the topics was how we might use our brains more effectively and what we might do to avoid a burn-out. During the discussion a book was mentioned that she had written about this issue. It happens from time to time that, while listening to such a program, I decide that I am going to order the book that was mentioned, but that, upon arriving home, I no longer remember the name of the author nor the exact title of the book. This time that was not the case. I ordered the book, which was delivered within 48 hours. In the meantime I have read most of the book. I was a little disappointed, as I had hoped that the author would have dealt with some things in a bit more depth! Nonetheless, I do not regret buying the books as it has sections that I find quite interesting. And it certainly also gave me more insight in some aspects of burn-out.
Mrs Geraerts believes that we can increase our mental flexibility by maintaining a good mental discipline. In this connections she mentions, among other things, the expectation of a ‘postponed reward’ and the importance of a strong intrinsic motivation. It is part of human nature that we want to be rewarded for our efforts, not just in the short term but also in the longer term. Our work must not only provide for our immediate needs, but must also give us something worthwhile to look forward to in the future. At the same time we must also be driven by ‘intrinsic motivation’, i.e. the sense that what we do is worth doing, and that we find satisfaction in doing it.
Reading the book Mentaal Kapitaal (Lannoo, 21015) by Elke Geraerts I began wondering whether her arguments might also apply to our inner life of faith. Is there something like a spiritual burn-out? Might we perhaps compare the situation of those who are totally frustrated with their faith and their church—because they are left with far too many unanswered questions and have been disappointed too many times—with the state of those who are physically and mentally ‘burned’ out? Has for many people their faith become a collection of empty words, for which they have no further use, and are people taking leave of the church because they no longer see any relevancy in what is being done and said in the church? Could this, in many cases, be the cause of a deep spiritual depression? Could it be that very often this ‘postposed reward’ has ceased to have any appeal and that the intrinsic motivation to remain in the church has disappeared? With a serious spiritual burn-out as its consequence?
I the past year I have given very serious thought to this issue of a ‘postponed reward’, that Christian believers have been told to look forward to. I have just written a book about death, resurrection and eternal life. The English language edition has now been published by the Stanborough Press in the UK, while a Dutch edition will soon follow suit. Writing about these themes forced me to ask myself some very penetrating questions. Is my spiritual life still motivated by the expectation of life after this life? How can I be sure that this new world the Bible speaks about will not in the end prove to be a mere pie in the sky? Being forced to give serious thought to these and related questions has clarified several things for me and has helped me greatly to continue looking for that ‘postponed reward’.
However, the point of intrinsic motivation should not be forgotten. Are we eager to hold on to our faith and to stay with our faith community, because it gives added value to our present life? For faith does not only have to do with future eternal life, but also with our present existence. This reminds me of the words of Jesus Christ in John 10:10, where he tells his followers that he is the Source of true life and that he wants to give us this life in all its abundance. Faith, in some miraculous way, has a tremendous added value for our life in the here and now. Always keeping that in mind will help us to avoid a spiritual burn-out.