Bobbi Patterson, PhD, M.Div, is Professor of Pedagogy in the Department of Religion and the Graduate Division of Religion at Emory University. A well-known speaker and presenter on burnout and resilience, she has helped create, direct, and reorganize a range of community-partnered service experiences and programs for over fifty years.
Service burnout is no stranger to Bobbi, whether in the form of emergency fixes to keep communication going or suddenly-called meetings to strategize about service delivery failures. Years of failed attempts to wrestle service back to some previous stability invited a new strategy: cultivate more resilience – personally, in the setting, and with the community.
Resilience mediates forces released in breakdown and collapse by fostering adjustments and system changes. With capacities to tolerate stress while holding a service system together, resilience facilitates learning and adaptation providing insights for next steps as service and those engaged in it fall apart. Because resilience invites us into burnout rather than around it or away from it, we meet our limits, lacking resources, and dead ends. We can choose to get to know them better and in those breakdown-driven discoveries expand our capacities for transition and change within ourselves, settings, and communities.
Translated for use in service settings, these insights, tools, and skills, help us welcome service change as adjustment for healthier living – whether by altering aspects of service or sometimes ending it. Exercises range from walking to sitting meditation, journaling, team-based practice of Lectio Divina and more. Providing space to let the feelings and thoughts arise without taking over, these tools help us recognize resistance, confusion, and breakdown as difficult yet useful opportunities for learning instead of panicking or resisting. Contemplative values that view diversity as a treasure, non-judging and empathy as resources, and change as part of compassionate living come alive in service and volunteer people and settings.