Burnout lessons

Last week the Cell Leaders met at our Marlton Pike site for their monthly training and relating as a team. I thank God for them! The main topic was burnout. If you are interested in a more extensive review, you can find it at our Way of Jesus site. This post is a taste.

Most of us have days when we feel bored, overloaded, or unappreciated. Those might be days when the dozen balls we keep in the air aren’t noticed, let alone rewarded. Those might be the days when dragging ourselves out of bed requires a lot of determination. That’s just life. However, if you feel that way most of the time, you may be experiencing what people call burnout.

Burnout is a state of exhaustion—emotional, mental, and physical, usually caused by excessive and prolonged stress.

Generally, burnout occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy. You are left feeling helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Some would say you are depressed—so you are probably angry, snappish, messing up relationships, so you get isolated, and don’t want to face things. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.

Mostly this is a workplace issue. But Americans work all the time. They seem to think life is working or vegging—two choices. For exercise they work out. For family fun they do activities. Their devices make them multitaskers all day and night. Since people work all the time, they apply the word for this workplace malady to everything. They burn out on Taco Bell. They burn out on relationships. And they burn out on church — people burn out from being a cell leader, or a team leader, and maybe the pastor—although we seem to retain those rather well.

  • Burnout is the situation where too much is going out and not enough coming in.
  • Burnout is a mismatch between effort and recovery.
  • Burnout is the gap between expectation and reward.

Burnout can be prevented and healed by Jesus.

I do not think the way Jesus works burns us out. I think Jesus keeps filling us with enough to do what we are given to do. There are important words in this promise:

  • Jesus – We need a relationship with the living God.
  • filling us – This takes experiences, discipline, community.
  • given to do – Not what we can imagine, or feel guilty about, but what we are given. This takes discernment, commitment over time.

I believe Jesus can sustain us in a world that might destroy us, but we’ll have to be serious people to access the possibility.

The spiritual core of burnout is often missed when psychologists write about it. Burnout is often about the need to move on. The move could be to a new location or job. But most likely it is to a deeper place inside.

Jesus says, I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NRSV)

Jesus says in this quote that he will fill you with what you need to do what you are given to do. You will notice that Jesus does not think there is another world, another reality, where you can do things without him. If you do things without Jesus, you burn out, permanently.

I think burnout points us to a deeper place where we can experience what God has given us. “Do not let your hearts be troubled” Jesus says. “In this world you will have many troubles, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” Burnout may be a time when we have passing troubles and Jesus helps us overcome them. But burnout may tell you that the way you have seen your life is wrong and you need to go a new direction. I think burnout may tell you another kind of job is needed. But it may also tell you that you need another kind of life.

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