Burnout and the Willing-Doing Gap

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.

Lessons from Fred

In the past month, I’ve met a good dozen people who have burned out recently or felt close to burnout. It wasn’t too long ago that I felt burnout myself—continually feeling under the gun, the candle burning at both ends, regularly feeling overwhelmed with too much to do.

Burnout is a regular visitor to the American workplace, and it can also happen at home. Toting kids to soccer games, meeting family obligations, getting food in the refrigerator—there are simply too many things to do in our lives if we’re to feel on top of it all. Last week, I met Fred. Fred is the antithesis of burnout. He simply waits around for things to happen. If they do, that’s great. If not, that’s fine, too. You see, Fred is a male monarch butterfly that happened across our home as a caterpillar, cocooned three weeks back and emerged from his chrysalis this past Saturday. Watching Fred do NOTHING the past month has been a reminder to me not only of my own anxieties and worries but also of my need to slow down.

While I realize this comparison with Fred is a bit of a stretch, our lives are often frantic because we make them that way—we become cross over things that need not cross us. In watching Fred, I saw that there was an instinct on his part that kept him waiting for something to happen with an air of calm. You could not hurry the little guy out of his cocoon. In fact, if you do, bad things happen.

Perhaps there is a “Fred” in your own life—something or someone that reminds you of the need to slow down, to remember that “each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Take it from my friend Fred–we don’t need to worry about tomorrow! May each of us slow down to the degree that we are able so that we don’t burnout in the long run.

The Journey Retreat

Sorry for last Tuesday’s absence, Enjoying the Surface readers!

I was on a wonderful retreat and want to use today’s post to share a bit of it with you. This past week was The Leadership Institute’s thrice-annual The Journey retreat and it was a real joy to spend the week with 20 Christian leaders who want to put Jesus at the center of their lives so that anything they do—professionally and personally—flows out of giving Him first priority in each day.

The retreat was at Pine Springs Ranch in snowy Mountain Center, CA (near Idyllwild) and was fabulous! I slept, ate and enjoyed the company of new friends and old friends (that is, friends I’ve known awhile, not that they are old…). A great week.

One of the things that the Lord showed me was that He is good. While this may not seem that big of a deal, I often forget, in the midst of my own scurrying and running around, that God is good. And in this reminder of seeing His goodness, I had the opportunity to trust Him just a bit more. Because you can only trust someone if you believe that they are good, that they don’t have it out to get you, that they want what is best for you. And God showed me pieces of this this past week through Scripture passages, through prayer time and through our Extended Personal Time, a time in the week where we go and spend 5 hours with God. A very restful time!

Speaking of which, take a moment to consider what God is currently showing you—how is He speaking to you right now? Where is He calling you to surrender more of your life over to Him and allow Him to heal broken areas of your soul? Remember as I did that God is good and worthy of our trust.

Be in prayer for my fellow participants at The Journey, that we would remember the things God showed us in the weeks ahead and live more in those truths.  I’ll keep you posted as we meet again in April.