The email told the story of a leader who was stepping down from his office, a relatively young man who has known amazing success. He said he was empty, had nothing left to give, that he was suffering from ‘burn out.’ How did a talented, gifted person find himself in that place? In his words it happened because he neglected some important things in life, feeling so pressed by the urgency of his work that he did not make time to find renewal. One of the laws of life is that giving out must be matched with taking in. If a person spends more than he makes, he goes broke. It is just as true for us emotionally and spiritually, as it is financially!
“Burn out” describes a syndrome of cynicism, depression, and anger that overtake a person, robbing joy and creativity. We all become tired. We all have days when we wonder why we do what we do, when we feel that we are just a cog in a machine that drives us round and round. If those days turn into weeks and then into months of unbroken output, of feeling like life is out of control, we are at risk for ‘burn out.’ We are then at risk for foolish decisions, for short-sighted choices, and very vulnerable to temptations that bring ruin and pain to us and those we love.
It is not just high powered executives, pastors, or artists that ‘burn out.’ Mommy fatigue is real. Chasing toddlers every day is exhausting. Marriage ‘burn out’ happens when spouses do not make time to renew their relationship with tender affection. Ministry ‘burn out’ happens when servants give but fail to see or appreciate the why behind the what.
Some suggest that relief is discovered in self-indulgence. Renewal becomes an excuse for selfishness or refusal of meaningful responsibility.
Caring for ourselves is accomplished by choosing priorities. No one person can do everything, be everything, or make life right for everyone. One of the most difficult questions in the world to answer is this- “What does God what specifically from me?” But, when we answer that and begin to align our choices with His will, we lower our risk for burning out.
The issue of perfectionism plays into burn out, too. Settling for mediocrity is not the answer but knowing when we have done our best and leaving the rest to God is! Comparison is a cruel taskmaster that destroys many from the inside out. Not everyone is an Olympic athlete, blessed with the brains of a neurosurgeon, or gifted with the compassion of Mother Theresa. If we come to believe that we are not valuable to God unless we are working at that kind of level we are at risk of burning ourselves out chasing the impossible. Who has God gifted YOU to be?
The counsel of God’s wisdom about staying vital is found in Hebrews 12. His words are practical. Read them thoughtfully – “Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” Discard the unnecessary. Deal with sin. Delight in Jesus!
The key to renewal is a healthy spiritual life of worship. Isaiah invites us to ponder the vast and beautiful Creation and then to accept that the One who made all that cares about us. This Monday morning I urge you to step aside for a few moments to refocus, renew, and recharge. If you’re on the edge of burn out, admit it. Ask someone to help you make some hard choices so that you don’t fall, fail, or quit.
Here is a word from the Word. May the Spirit open our eyes to the wonderful truth and promise. “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40)