'The intimate term that changed my life'
Richard’s story | A beloved son through burnout
“I grew up thinking that I was always in trouble with God. My image of God was that he was a bit scary … and that I wasn’t good enough. It distorted my view of God as ‘Father’.”
“I wasn’t actually a naughty child. I was pretty good. But in the early ’70s when I was still only very small, everyone was watching the Left Behind video, and singing, ‘I wish we’d all been ready …’ I was worried that I’d be left behind because I wasn’t good enough. If I came home from school early and my mum wasn’t there, I’d be worried that she’d been raptured. So I would say the sinner’s prayer every day (for years) just in case it hadn’t worked before.
“For a long time, I thought I needed to earn my place with God. I needed to work hard for God. From the age of 24, I started working for Christian organisations, both overseas and locally, and I’ve been doing that ever since. But in 2011, I burnt out. It was really severe. I was working 60 plus hours a week and it was a really stressful job, with lots of responsibility. I hit the wall. I couldn’t get out of bed for six months. The doctor said I had depression and anxiety. It was very hard.
“But there’s something about pain and suffering that God uses to grow us. There’s an opportunity, in the middle of a crisis, to actually do some business with God. I think we often try to avoid pain at all costs, but even then, God will bring growth about, in his way. For me, I started seeing a Christian psychologist as well as doing a spiritual formation course at Bible College, and I went to a healing ministry. The burnout stripped me of everything I thought I was … and I actually surrendered to God. But the God who I surrendered to was a loving Father.
“I wasn’t in trouble. I realised for the first time that I was a child of God. Even though I was in burnout, I wasn’t in trouble. God delighted in me. It was amazing. I realised my identity was as a child of God, who was beloved. There was a real gentleness there. And because of Christ’s work on the cross, I was now seen by God, as his child. I was in Christ, robed in the righteousness of Christ … and I could come to God as Father.
“Romans 8 says, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him, we cry, ‘Abba Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (verses 15-17)
“We can call God, ‘Abba Father!’ This changed my life. It’s such an intimate term, it’s a primal cry from the heart. It’s so personal. After the burnout, I was worried that I would never get a job again in Christian ministry … that the burnout was somehow failure. But I remember going for my next job interview. I told them about the burnout, and the interviewer nodded, and he said, ‘Good! And what did God teach you during the burnout?’
“I realised then that my relationship with God wasn’t about work performance. It was about my whole identity as who God says I am: and I am his beloved child.”