SCUBA stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. The deep-sea diver goes to extreme depths in search of treasure that most will never find in life. But every diver understands the incredible pressure that is exerted on his or her body in each diving venture.
At sea level, the air around us has a pressure of 14.7 PSI (pounds per square inch) referred to as one atmosphere. This is considered the normal pressure for the human body. Because water is so heavy compared to air, it does not take much water to exert a lot of pressure. At 33 feet below the surface, the pressure on the body doubles and the diver’s lungs contracts to half their normal size. When a diver resurfaces the air expands and the lungs return to normal size.
Now the air in the SCUBA tank exits through the mouthpiece with a pressure equal to the water pressure exerted on the tank. It has to or it cannot possibly exit the tank. When a person is SCUBA diving, the air in the diver’s lungs at 100 feet below the surface has four times the pressure as at sea level.
When high-pressure gases in the air come in contact with water, they dissolve into the water. This happens in the same way that carbonated beverages are made. To make carbonated water it is exposed to high-pressure carbon dioxide gas, and the gas dissolves into the water. We all know what happens when you release the pressure in a bottle of soda. The gas dissolved in the water and high-pressure comes out of the liquid when the pressure is released—the result—bubbles! It is these same types of bubbles that can kill a diver.
If a diver remains under water too long, nitrogen from the air will dissolve into the body of the diver. If he or she swims to the surface too rapidly it is like uncorking a bottle of soda and gas is released. This is referred to as the bends (Decompression Sickness) that can be a very painful condition and potentially fatal. To avoid the effects of quick decompression the diver must rise slowly and may make intermittent decompression stops on the way up to the surface so that the gas can come out slowly.
As a safeguard, they are equipped with a depth gauge and oxygen gauge. At all times the diver is monitoring the pressure gauges carefully calculating how long he or she can remain at the depth without severe consequences. Oxygen levels are monitored as well ensuring enough oxygen supply remains to be able to safely return to the surface. Failure to do so might result in permanent damage being done to most any area in the body including the brain, lungs or neurological system. Those who experience the bends may never dive again or they could possibly lose their life.
There are a lot of similarities between deep-sea diving and pastors. Those of us who believe serving others is our calling and mission want to invest deeply into the cause. However, there is a fundamental difference between deep-sea-divers and us. The most significant difference is that we do not possess a depth gauge to calculate the risk of diving into the cause with all its risk and liabilities. We have no oxygen gauge to aid us in knowing when and how fast we must return to the surface. If we get lost in the depths we may experience the bends upon surfacing for those much-needed sources of renewal.
Many vocational people helpers seem to ‘run out of oxygen’ without much warning. They surface too late and too fast. We received a call again last week. A pastor and friend announced his resignation. No moral failure. No severe crisis at the church. No major family problems. No sickness. He was simply burned out. That’s how he described it. He said he had gotten to the point that he was having trouble putting one foot in front of the other.
When he arrived at my office his hands were trembling. The depression was overwhelming. He could not focus on anything of importance. This pastor was convinced that he was no longer capable of running the race. So he had quit without another job in sight. In our counseling time together we discovered that there were numerous ‘Early Warning Signs’ (EWS) that his vitality and resilience were rapidly declining.
What are Your ‘EWS’ when Life is Not Good to You?
What are your ‘Early Warning Signs’ (EWS) that your vitality is declining and you are quickly losing your resiliency? What are your earliest warning signs of diminishing vitality? Is it in the physical domain with low energy or sleep difficulties? Is it in your attitude or relationships? To get started you may want to write down your EWS in each of these aspects of life:
- Physical: Where within your body do you first see the impact of stress? (Example: sleeping difficulties)
- Mental Attitude: What is the shift in your general outlook? (Example: Irritable or oversensitive)
- Relational Dynamics: How are your closer relationships impacted by your diminishing vitality? (Example: Your family senses that you are distant or self-absorbed)
- Spiritual Life: What happens to your prayer life and spiritual feeding? (Example: Your prayer life becomes non-existent except in moments of desperation.)
These Early Warning Signs serve as your oxygen and depth gage. Keep your eye on the gages. Stay mindful. Then you can maintain the vitality essential for a life of service to God and others.