Is Your Burnout Compensation for a Parent’s Lack of Love?


One of my favorite authors is Mark Buchanan. In a recent blog post, he shared about the life of Eustace Conway (a review of the book The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert.) Conway lived an amazing life, and he produced and accomplished much. But this quote stopped me:

“In many ways, he’s accomplished so much because he’s been damaged so deeply. His success – his perfectionism, really – has been a massive gesture of compensation, a thing he’s used to try to fill a void that has no bottom. It’s been his lifelong and mounting effort to hear just one thing: You are my son, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.”

I gulped. Yep. Check. Me.

I don’t write much about my father publicly. There’s still so much mess and tangles there. He died when I was ten years old, and looking back I’m truly unsure of his love for me. Others tell me that he loved me. But my memories, some very disturbing, mitigate against that. He did pay attention to me, something I truly needed, but I’m not sure his attention was of the healthy, nurturing, fatherly sort.

Growing up, I wonder if I could even articulate this. Probably not because I cannot seem to wrap words around it now. When you have a doubt in your heart about being wanted and loved, this little thought reverberates through you, and it sounds as loud as a symphony: SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH YOU. YOU MUST PERFORM TO EARN SOME LOVE.

So boy howdy did I perform. (And I still do).

I need to be seen, to be known, to be loved. I have spent a large portion of my adult life longing for a father’s love, which was truly impossible when your father is no longer living, and when he lived, he didn’t necessarily cherish you. All of this striving is chasing after ghosts that can never change.

But the thing is, if you hear the voices that yell at you to perform to prove your worth, you end up believing them like gospel, and they dig trenches in your heart so deep you cannot climb out. All you can do is keep doing things, striving for more, more, more. No matter what awesome achievement you gain, you cannot rest in it. You cannot sit and enjoy the accolade or joy of accomplishment. No, you must keep moving, always moving, never stopping.

If you stop, the voices get louder.

If you stop, you prove you’re unworth.

If you stop, you might have to face something very painful: the reality of your past.

I am stopping today. I am listening to the symphony of shame in my head. And I’m here to tell you please don’t obey it. Please let it go. Your worth is not tied to performance. It never was. It’s tied to relationship–with the Father who loves you.

I need to believe this, not just write it, not just say it, but live it by slowing my life down and realizing finally that I am worthwhile simply because I’m a human being who is desperately, beautifully loved by her Creator. He does not set me (or you) on a treadmill of performance, letting us run ragged and insecure. No, He settled it all on the cross.

It is finished.

Your race to strive and prove and perform is finished. It’s already settled, your worth.

You can’t earn a love that’s given freely.

You don’t need to burnout for love’s sake.

I write this with deep affection for you, my reader, who may be struggling as I have. I long to see us all set free from this striving.