“Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.”

1 Kings 19:3-5

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

“Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.” (1 Kings 19:3-5)

This may seem like an unusual text for our week reflecting on leadership. But Elijah’s story points to an important dimension to leadership: disillusionment and burnout.

It might well be said that if at some point in leading, one does not feel disillusioned and burnt out, you are probably not leading properly! Leadership, even the kind of participatory leadership that I consider leadership at its best, is exhausting. Moreover, those who do not hold leadership often assume that leaders must do everything.

In addition, there are times when even though one does everything right, things still go wrong. This may be because what is being done is right in principle but simply impossible in the situation. Or it can be because, although everything is being done properly, poor decisions were made at the start. Or both.

What follows is a combination of disillusionment with the idea of leading and a sense of total exhaustion. The temptation is always to give up, to walk away.

But what Elijah’s story, particularly the story that follows this passage I have quoted, tells us is that for true leaders giving up is not an option. In the story, God intervenes, helps Elijah to reconnect with his mission and send him forth on his journey.

It is highly unlikely that most disillusioned and burnt out leaders will have the privilege of direct divine intervention. What we can take from this story as leaders, however, is the need to take time out, to relax, to review what one is doing right or wrong, to reimagine how you are to get back into the fight.

Above all, such moments for exhausted leaders should be an occasion to simply stop. Stop and go deep into yourself, see what your personal priorities are so that you reconnect these deep things about yourself with your work.

Ask yourself. Am I exhausted? Am I burnt out? If so, why don’t I stop for a bit to reconnect with myself and with God?

A Leader's Prayer

Lord, as we continue to undertake the role of leader let us be affirmed by the servant leadership we witness in your son Jesus. Let us walk in the path He has set and let those who will, follow. Let our greatest passion be compassion. Our greatest strength love. Our greatest victory the reward of peace. In leading let us never fail to follow. In loving let us never fail.


Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

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