I glimpsed it in the slight tightness, the fatigued determination of her face that day: that distinct weariness that comes from herding toddlers and preschoolers 24/7. Having worn that particular look for approximately eight years myself, I know it well.

And though there are few exhaustions like young-mom exhaustion—I felt my own version of tired-mad that week. (Um. My family may have felt it, too.) One of my favorite takeaways from the movie Home were those hybrid-emotions, like sad-mad. Anger is a secondary emotion anyway, right? We feel angry usually because we were first hurt; afraid; grieved. Depleted, taken for granted; so very tired. So I have to plunge my fingers into my anger, exploring a bit.

burnout-match

Surely Jesus was rightfully tired-mad at some point. Do I hear it in the occasional comment like, “Are you still so dull?” Or, “Do you still have no faith?” We also know He set aside time just to get away. Surely working with people at times was simply, rightfully…draining. Even exasperating.

Clearly in our lives there are seasons and occupations of caregiving; of pouring in and planting seeds and falling into bed like a dead person. But tired-mad can, at least for me, act as a dashboard “check engine” light. More clearly, the “burnout” light might be flashing an irritated orange.

 

Am I Burned Out?

You may find this brief, 15-question quiz helpful, or this quick checklist. Other symptoms?

  • Sarcastic
  • Negative
  • Irritable
  • Feeling ineffective
  • Apathetic
  • Emotionally absent
  • Stuck/trapped—like a computer freezing up from too many entered commands
  • “I’m not right for this kind of work.”

As someone wisely said to me, if you don’t like the things you love, there might be a problem.

 

How did this happen?

Mayo Clinic has some general ideas: Lack of control, unclear job expectations, dysfunctional workplace dynamics, mismatch in values, poor job fit, extremes of monotony or chaos, lack of social support, and work-life imbalance.

So yes, motherhood just might fit the bill. Ministry life can, too. Our culture isn’t famous for a great deal of time and space to cultivate quiet; to process life–and as Christians, sometimes there’s an added element of spiritual expectation. We should be living poured-out for Jesus, right? One burned-out friend in ministry confessed, “I don’t really feel like being a ‘professional Christian’ anymore.”

 

Which may mean it’s time to do something. Christopher Ash, author of Zeal without Burnout, quotes a fellow pastor:

I put it into terms of fighting fire, as I’m a volunteer firefighter as well as being a pastor. Obviously you have to push yourself physically when fighting a fire. It’s a stretching experience that is uncomfortable and physically difficult. You have to know your limitations while making the sacrifices needed to get the tasks done that must be done.

It’s foolishness to ignore your limitations, try to be the hero, and cramp up, pass out, or have a heart attack while in a burning structure because you’re beyond the limits of what God has supplied you with the capability of doing. It’s a form of heroic suicide that is counterproductive because you’re now no longer effective in fighting fire and the resources that were dedicated to fighting the fire are now dedicated to saving you.

If you’re struggling with burnout, my desire is not to chide you, to offer you more shoulds. If we were having coffee, perhaps I’d just look you in the eyes and say, I’m sorry you’re tired. From a personal place, I get it. I really do.

And I’m sorry.

As much as I would encourage you to examine your burnout–as I’m about to do with mine in the next post–I’d also want to gently grin at you. Get outta here. Get away, and get some rest. Drink deeply of God by doing absolutely nothing.

“I don’t want help. Honestly–I don’t want people to see me as weak. Or crazy.”

  • Burnout isn’t a new thing. Remember it’s not weak to seek help: It’s humble. It acknowledges that God created the Body of Christ so that it can work together. Keep in mind 1 Corinthians 12: No part can say to another, “I don’t need you!”

“…But I’m usually the one who does the helping. I hate the idea of being that…needy.”

  • Only God is always the Giver. Remember Peter’s response when Jesus tried to wash His feet: “No, Lord!” Jesus came not for the healthy, but the sick. Acknowledging, not denying, our need helps us have “truth in the inmost parts.”

Resting in God and getting the help we need are ways of speaking the Gospel to ourselves all over again: That Jesus did our work for us. Sabbath-acts, rest-acts, are acts of faith, as we trust God will accomplish His work even when we choose to stop.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

[The disciples in the storm in Mark 5:45-52] are in a situation that seems impossible, exhausting, frustrating, and potentially dangerous. They are far beyond their strength and ability. As you read the passage, you have to ask yourself why Jesus would ever want his disciples in this kind of difficulty. It’s clear that they’re not in this mess because they’ve been disobedient, arrogant or unwise, but because they have obeyed Jesus….

[Jesus] takes the walk [on water] because He is not after the difficulty. He is after the men in the middle of the difficulty. He is working to change everything they think about themselves and about their lives…he says: ‘it is I’…He is actually taking one of the names of God. He is saying the ‘I AM’ is with them, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the One on whom all the covenant promises rest. It is impossible for them to be alone….

He knows that sometimes you need the storm in order to be able to see the glory. For the believer, peace is not to be found in ease of life. Real peace is only ever found in [His] presence, power, and grace.

-Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies: A Gospel Devotional (emphasis added)

 

Check out Part II: Processing Burnout (…and am I Playing the Martyr?) here.

 

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