Step Away From That Hamster Wheel

A spiritual reminder on avoiding burnout

When we were kids, my brothers and I had pet hamsters. There was one named Boog, after the famous player for the Baltimore Orioles, another named Johnnie, after the great Baltimore quarterback Unitas. I named mine Billy Jean King, after the tennis champion.

Each hamster had a wheel for running, a soup can for sleeping, food and water. Every day Billy Jean would spend lots of time on her wheel, just running and running. Then she’d drink and eat, and when she was tired, she’d get cozy in her Campbell’s soup can and rest. That was her life – running, eating, drinking and resting, with some play time with her human sprinkled in.

Working in health care can sometimes feel like running on that hamster wheel. Go, go, go! Many tasks, little time, in and out of rooms, on and off the computer. Those of us with jobs that keep us near the patients’ bed side often have trouble finding time to have a drink of water, use the bathroom or get some lunch. Those who work in administration or other supportive jobs move from meeting to meeting, or from task to task in heavily scheduled days. When our work is over, we may be able to slow down our bodies once we have taken care of household chores and family obligations, but that little hamster keeps right on running around and around on the wheel in our heads. Whether we are running on the hamster wheel at work, or getting worked over by the hamster wheel of worry and self-doubt in our heads, we can get mighty worn out.

How do we find ways to be renewed and refreshed? Where’s your soup can refuge? It may be closer than you realize.

Each of us needs small ways to step away from the hamster wheel and be renewed. It would be nice to go on a two-week cruise in the Caribbean, but for most of us, a mini vacation right in the midst of our workday will have to do. The Psalmist knew this. The author created a brief few sentences of prayer that the faithful have used over the centuries to ask God for what they need: “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” We might do well to commit this sentence of scripture to memory. Sometimes the stress of our days, the intensity, the joy, the sadness and the pain of what we do, makes a mark on our hearts. Like blackboards that need to be erased throughout the day, our hearts need cleaning too, and God knows just how to do it.

There is a moment between when we receive a message to get moving and when we move. That moment is a potential soup can we can rest in, even if for just a few deep breaths. Instead of being driven by the demands around us, we can grab that moment and pause briefly, inviting God to be in and on our hearts. The Hebrew word for God is Yahweh, which is a translation of the sound of breathing. God is literally in our breathing. Spend a few moments with God today. Breathe God.


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