Lifestyle Editing, Pt.1: Burn-Out
The other day I sat down at a local coffee shop ready to write a little something sweet for y’all when I unexpectedly ran into a friend and his wife. We crossed paths for about 2.5 seconds that day, but the conversation was so purposeful and inspiring. Most of that chat was a bit about young leaders and the common areas of concern we encounter as budding new enthusiasts. Among the topics? Soul care, creating margin in life, sustainability, and burn out.
After taking time to think through the vastness of those arenas, I realized they’re largely impossible to tackle in one sitting. They’re best consumed in small bits and savored. If you don’t, you miss the whole point.
So consider today the beginning of a bit of a “Soul Care & Life-Style Editing” series. We’re going to start in reverse, working our way back to the underlying foundation of Soul Care. We’ll walk through burn out, step into sustainability, develop a plan for creating margin, and then camp out at Soul Care.
When we talk about "burn out”, or anything really, it’s important to define our terms. What do we mean by “burn out”? How do we spot it? And the primary question we’re asking today, how do we prevent it?
Look it up in any dictionary and you’ll likely find a variation of this definition: Burn out refers to “a physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.” I would take it a step further and pose that “burn out” also includes a spiritual stalling rooted in the soul caused by taking on too much too fast. Just reading that definition alone is enough to make me want to take a nap.
There are a few things that tip us off to burn out. Among the worst are becoming increasingly unsympathetic towards others, experiencing a major increase in irritability when faced with small problems or inconveniences, and an overall feeling of being rundown or drained. When you can check the ‘yes’ box on all three of those, you can bet you’ve come down with a pretty bad case of burn out.
In a perfect world, I’d say the remedy is to prevent it. But since we’re all likely going to find ourselves burnt out at one time or another, here are a few ways to bounce back, regain a grip on your focus, and reignite your heart with passion.
The short version?
The long version?
1 - Say “no” and be committed to that choice.
We live in such a “more-is-more’’ and “do it all” culture. We give ourselves little badges of honor when we sacrifice ourselves on the altar of ministry or work. Somewhere along the way we forgot that the scripture actually says, “Obedience is better than sacrifice,” & not the other way around.
What if obeying God meant saying "no" to more? Did you know the world "no" isn't a bad word?
I think I heard you all gasp just a little.
We have got to learn how to say “no”. Forgetting how to say “no” is most often what leads us to burnout. Burn out leads to emotional and physical exhausted. Our body literally begins to shut down on us.
Meanwhile, we’re committed to three new high-capacity projects at work, leading a smaller group of people in some capacity, planning our sister’s baby shower, volunteering for weekend events above our regular volunteer gigs, and that's not even mentioning our forty hour a week full time job and the relationships we are trying to maintain.
"Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” Matthew 5:37, ESV
"Slow down. Take a deep breath. What's the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?” Jeremiah 2:25, MSG
Saying "no" allows us to slow down to the pace that God had in mind for us. Which leads us to the next point….
2 - Rest.
We weren’t ever asked to run ourselves rampant. Even Jesus had to take time to slow down and refocus—in fact, He did so repeatedly:
"But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16
"Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Mark 1:35, NIV
This is what we would call “sabbath”. That’s just a fancy term which basically means “stop working”. It’s incredibly vital to your overall wellbeing, especially the caring of our soul. Exodus 20:8-11 says,
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
In the book, Sit, Walk, Stand, Watchman Nee maps out the importance of “sitting” before taking on the task of the other two — the "doing". Our very existence was created on the sixth day of the creation of the world. We were not part of God’s creative process for the rest of the world. We were last, and therefore, our lives began with the seventh day. It began with the sabbath. Where God worked six days and then rested, man rested with God and then began his work with God.
Clearly the Lord is serious about resting——He’s God and even He needed to take the day off!
But the most important thing to remember when we think about resting, is that it wasn’t just a commandment from the Lord—it's not a rule or regulation to restrict your productivity or hinder the accomplishment of your goals. It’s actually a gift from God—a reminder that we don’t need to carry the heavy load that comes with working hard and we don’t need to feel the pressure of making sure everything happens or gets done. God never asked us to work harder for Him; He doesn’t need our work. He wants us to join Him in whatever He is doing and sometimes that will mean pausing for a minute or two to enjoy just being with Him.
When we prioritize the busyness of doing work over the importance of being with God, we say a lot more about what we believe than we realize. We’re making bold statements about ourselves and God. We’re saying that our ability to work hard and get stuff done is far greater and far more important than God’s.
That’s a dangerous place to find ourselves.
Slow down. Be committed to your “yes”s and “no”s. And realize that there are likely to be far more “no”s than there are “yes”s—and that is okay.
3 - Purge your mind.
A natural bi-product of slowing down is becoming more aware of our thoughts. And sometimes when that happens, we don’t like what we find. Which is probably a significant contributor to our addiction to busyness in the first place. A chaotic mind is a great cause for a chaotic life. I know because I have experienced this myself. When we don’t pay attention to our thoughts—what is being consumed and what we are expressing—we find a lack of peace in all things.
When I was a teenager, I journaled—a lot. It was my way of word vomiting all the thoughts and feelings I couldn’t (and probably rightfully shouldn’t) have expressed to anyone else. I do this a lot less now, but I still use this method of purging my mind to evaluate how I’m feeling and why. For those of you who don’t necessarily care to talk about your 'feelings', this is the perfect compromise. You don’t have to share with anyone —this is between you and God. Get it all out, ask Him to reveal the areas of your thought processes that aren’t in line with the fruits of His Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, etc.), and then begin the work of allowing His word to transform your mind.
Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
In other words, this world is going to throw you a lot of opportunities to think destructive thoughts about God, you, others, and this life. It will bog you down, strip you of your excitement for life, and distract you from what truly deserves your mental attention. It is our personal and individual duty to examine each opportunity according to the word of God before we believe and accept those thoughts into our lives. How do you do that? Slow down and actively examine that with which your mental space is occupied.
Write it down.
Say it out loud.
Talk to a friend.
Find a counselor.
Sing it in the shower.
However you need to do this, do it. And when you do, you'll likely find that your passion for what is most important and what is meant for you will resurface.
Burn out is a scary and unnecessary experience. With a new year finally here, it's the perfect time to start right. Remember, man was created on the sixth day, and therefore started his life with rest with God. That is the posture we should all be taking when we think about where to start in anything. Our day or our year—it all needs to begin with a restful posture in Christ. Hopefully these three tips on how to remedy and prevent burn out will help you to re-focus and prepare for all that is about to come your way.
Next time, we’ll take a step into sustainability. We’ll be addressing how we can craft a lifestyle that allows us to pursue our passions in moderation and in ratio with our capacity. Hint: our goal is to live a life that supports the weight of our dreams and practice the discipline that it takes to see those passionate visions become realities.
Cheers to a restful New Year!
Alexa | Joy