I’m back from my travels. Great to be home, great to have caught up with friends and good to put the suitcase away for some time. Having not been on the road for awhile, I’d forgotten what it was like to catch a plane here and ride the rails and have a meeting there all while trying to have some semblance of rest and peace. Needless to say, I feel for many of my fellow Americans for whom this is the norm.
One of the main things I saw during my travels was the effect of burnout—long-term exhaustion and diminished interest—in the workplace and in the Christian life in general. Many of the people I saw and even new folks I met in passing told me of their busy lives and how that lifestyle does not help them to rest or connect well with God. James Bryan Smith in The Good and Beautiful God talks about how the number one enemy for Christian spiritual formation is exhaustion and that we live beyond our means not only financially but physically as well.
Oftentimes we believe that if we just try harder in the spiritual life, things will get better. Yet this belief is false. If we’re to have any long-lasting impact in how we counter burnout, we need to slow down, which is quite a paradox from the “try harder” mentality we might usually think would work. Theologian Klaus Issler says that “willpower alone was never meant to carry the weight of right living. It is too limited to defeat the various temptations we face and to change the sinful habits and compulsions we have developed over a lifetime. Will power is also too weak to bring about positive change—we cannot will joy, peace, kindness. We can will certain actions, but not character traits. Rather, as Jesus taught, our mode of life is primarily directed by our inner life or heart.”
May each of us this week examine our lives and see where we are nearing burnout. Let’s also take Smith’s suggestion of sleeping more so that we can be more alert to others, our selves, and to God.
Try this with me this week (quoting Smith): “At least one day this week sleep until you cannot sleep any more. If you need to, find a day when you can sleep in. Your aim is to sleep, or stay in bed, until you can finally say, ‘I am completely rested. I do not need to sleep or stay in bed a minute longer.’” As you practice this discipline this week, what, if anything, did you learn about God or yourself in the process? Keep me posted on how you progress in this easy way to fight burnout in your life.