“Holy Perfection” No. 9

Spiritual Leader Burnout reason number 9:

Trying to be perfectly “holy” versus trying to become “whole”

Some spiritual leaders have begun to reduce their worldview and value system to a microscopic spiritual perspective. Those leaders quote Scripture verses at every occasion and basically see everything from a spiritual angle. On the one hand, there is nothing wrong with this, as after all their role in the community is to uphold the spiritual perspective and offer and represent a certain spiritual value system. On the other hand, burnout happens when spiritual leaders focus exclusively on “becoming holy”, in the sense of becoming “spiritually perfect”. For some spiritual leaders reducing their efforts to “living a holy lifestyle”, of “reaching certain spiritual heights” while “representing God on earth”, leads to burnout in daily painstaking perfectionistic attempts to no longer present as human. The understanding of becoming “holy” can be observed in some Christian spiritual leaders’ perfectionistic pursuit of overcoming their “flesh”, doing away with their “old Adam (Eve)” and avoiding their “sins”. This narrow (and mis-)understanding of “holiness” can lead to burnout as a reduction of Spiritual leaders’ life quality, which is experienced as the loss of the freedom of being authentic and the loss of admission to have human flaws and shortcomings like everybody else.

The notion of “becoming whole” on the other hand means that one’s body, one’s raw emotions, one’s authentic vulnerable and human self with all flaws and particularities are being integrated into the spiritual leader’s awareness and identity. When spiritual leaders stop presenting themselves as “holy” or “holier”, professional burn out is being prevented. When “wholeness” (understood as”healing and “integration”) become the predominate goal of the spiritual leaders for self and for others, the notion of “holiness” is being transformed into a life giving spiritual practice that overcomes spiritual perfectionist striving. The striving for wholeness means the ongoing practice of accepting and healing of one’s body, one’s emotions, one’s personal story, one’s strengths and one’s “sins” and shortcomings. When spiritual leaders allow themselves to remain “human”, they become “whole”, which in itself is deeply liberating and prevents the burn out of spiritual perfectionism.

I suggest Parker Palmer’s books who focuses on the development of authenticity as the basis for all spiritual discernment, ministry and spiritual education.