I vividly remember sitting in the psychologist’s office as he told me I was experiencing burnout in a bad way. I had been suffering for a while but I didn’t know that there was a clinical term for what I was going through. I just thought I was broken somehow and hoped he could help me.
“You’ve got to take your foot off the gas,” he told me. “If you don’t, your family and church are going to suffer.” I wrote about the experience here.
Burnout is a strange phenomenon. It’s tricky. It’s not like an illness that you can see coming and try to take extra vitamin C to get ahead of it. It’s a lot more devious than that. To this day, I still feel the effects of that chapter in my life. Hopefully, the following five things will help you put practices into your life that will protect you from burning out.
1. The warning signs are incredibly difficult to see. Like I said, it’s not like the flu. You don’t get a scratchy throat indicating that you’re coming down with something. In my case, my wife noticed before I did. It’s like you’re charging ahead and then one day, you realize you’re not yourself. Don’t think you’re immune, don’t believe that you’re better than, and don’t ignore the subtle absence of grace and patience.
2. Burnout numbs you to the things you love. This one is nasty. I remember feeling like the things I loved were just more work. Instead of enjoying the holidays, I endured them. Activities that I typically enjoyed, like writing and music, had no appeal. Even sex was a chore. I lost my passion for the ministry that God called me to and pastoring felt laborious.
3. Life becomes flavorless. This point is really just an extension of the previous one. Instead of life having ups and downs, it just had downs. Vitality was rare, fatigue was constant, and I couldn’t recall the last time I had a good laugh.
4. Burnout is extremely difficult to recover from. You can’t just go up north fishing for the weekend and bounce back from burnout. In my case, I had to take a month off work, and that was just the beginning. In the film, The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo is stabbed by a Ring Wraith. When Gandalf discusses the matter with Elrond, he explains, “I’m afraid that wound will never fully heal.” It’s a bit like that. Your passion will return, life will regain its color, and your energy will return. However, burnout seems to be lurking in the shadows, and passion has to be intentionally protected or it disappears when you’re not looking.
5. It’s all about taking preventative measures. I have gotten in the habit of scheduling times of restorative activities all throughout the year now. I take two personal retreats, a three-week vacation, and guard my day off. It may sound like overkill but it’s necessary if I want to love and serve others in a way that’s genuine and meaningful. The best way to beat burnout is by guarding yourself against it in the first place. If you’re taking work calls, texts, and emails on your day off, you’re not only putting yourself at risk for burnout but you’re eroding the grace that allows you to serve others best in the first place.
I hope this helps. If you’ve suffered burnout, how did you recover? Also, what sort of preventative measures do you take? Feel free to share in the comments section below.
“I hate my job.” Do you know who says that? People who hate their jobs.
“I’ll never succeed.” You know who says that? People who never succeed.
“My best years are behind me.” You know who says that? People who have only memories of the good ol’ days and nothing to look forward to.
Are these people speaking the truth or are they creating truth with their words?
“Life is a gift!” You know who says that? People who appreciate and find joy in all that God has provided for them.
“This is going to make a difference.” Do you know who says that? People who don’t give up but keep on trying until the vision is fulfilled.
“The best is yet to come!” You know who says that? People who live life with an abundance mindset, filled with hope, experiencing amazing things.
Are these people speaking the truth or are they creating truth with their words?
In the Bible, James 3:3-5a says, “We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong.”
In this passage, the author is making a comparison between a rudder (and a bit) and our tongues. It’s all about the power of the words we speak. The words we speak move our lives in either a positive, prosperous direction or a declining, joyless direction.
That’s why, if you want a better life, you need to stop letting your feelings determine your vocabulary.
Neuroscientists have just started studying the power of words and have discovered that they can affect our health, our mood, and our relationships. Of course, God knew this all along. And they can affect a whole lot more than that!
The problem is that we tend to let our current negative emotional state dictate what we say about our future circumstances. This is deadly! When we start doing that, we need to stop talking, take a deep breath, and start speaking life into our lives.
I’m not talking about pie in the sky fantasy talk either. If you didn’t work hard enough, admit it. If you experienced a setback, it’s okay to say it. But a missed expectation today does not have to equal a miserable tomorrow.
It’s a healthy response to say that you’re going to achieve your health goals (even if you’ve missed the mark). It’s a good thing to say that your ideas are going to succeed (even when they’ve fallen flat in the past). Go ahead and confess that some amazing days are ahead of you (even if you can’t remember the last time you had one).
Our words are powerful and can steer the course of our lives so let’s start speaking our lives into a successful, happy direction.
When God created the world, He spoke it into existence. Maybe it’s time we take a cue from Him and start creating the world we desire with our words.
Without a vision for where we want our lives to go, we drift. We float from experience to experience hoping to find some fulfillment. We chase pleasure instead of purpose and ultimately find ourselves frustrated that things didn’t turn out as we hoped. Proverbs 29 goes as far as to say that people perish when they don’t have a vision. That’s a pretty strong statement but it rings true in the people I’ve met with no real vision for their lives.
They may not be literally dead but they’re a bit like zombies, living out their lives with no real joy, passion, or sense of belonging to something greater than themselves.
A vision for our lives gives us a reason to keep going when the going gets tough. When obstacles come, we don’t give up because we hold a greater vision than simply what’s in front of us. We take our licks because it’s worth it. We deal with difficult people, we get up after setbacks, and we keep moving forward because the vision inspires us, even demands us, to reach for the prize.
A vision for our lives pushes us to grow, learn, and stay healthy. The interesting thing about a great vision is that it requires us to become better people than we currently are. When I had the vision to plant a church, I had to grow into a person who listens better, endures much, and stays physically and emotionally healthy. When I wrote my first novel, I had to learn about story structure, formatting, and promotion. You cannot accomplish big things without being willing to grow, learn, and work your butt off.
So what about discovering a life-vision? When you have one, it helps to guide you into the future with purpose and fulfillment. It keeps you from wasting months and years floating around wondering what you’re supposed to do with your life. Well, here’s a big question that will help you when you’re trying to make sense of your future and move from uncertainty to focus.
What do I want the end result of my life to be?
Like any good plan, we have to start with the completed results and then work our way backward. Our lives are really no different. Do we want to be able to look back at our lives and say that we did our best to lead our families? Do we want to be able to say that we helped the less fortunate, were generous with our time or made a positive impact on the world around us?
Grab a notebook and a pen and spell it out. Journal, seek the Lord and determine what you want to be said about you at your funeral. How do you want to be remembered?
Don’t worry about getting it wrong. Writing out a vision for your life does not mean that it’s now set in stone. It just means that you now have some direction, which is a huge step in the right direction for many people. Now you can tweak it, pray over it some more, expand it, and dream about how you will get from where you are to where you want to be someday.
Also, once you have a vision, you can start to define your purpose and mission in life. But you can’t do that until you’ve established a vision.
I hope that you’ll take this question seriously and start to do the work to develop your life vision. There are very few things that you can do that will lead to more meaningful decisions, more fulfillment, and greater growth.
One of my favorite quotes is by Saint Irenaeus and it goes like this, “The glory of God is man fully alive”.
I know it’s actually a miss-quote but I really like it anyway. The expression “fully alive” really inspires me. It reminds me of Christ’s offer of a rich and satisfying life. It also makes me think of how many of us aren’t really fully alive. We’re alive in the sense that our hearts are beating and we’re walking around, but we’re plagued by unfulfilled hopes, abandoned dreams, and lives that make little to no impact on the world around us. When our ideas of a good time are watching TV or taking the edge off with alcohol, then we’re missing out on a whole lot of actual living.
It seems more like we’re kind of alive but not fully.
There are many reasons why we don’t live fully. Too many to list here. But I thought I’d share four things with you that might help you move to a greater place of fullness in your life.
Never let shame settle in.
Nothing sucks the life out a person like shame. Shame over our appearance, shame over our lack of anything, and especially shame over our actions. I had a conversation the other day with a friend who was wrecked by shame because he lost his temper at work. It’s like he was stuck in that moment, unable to enjoy life. You can’t live fully and hold onto shame at the same time. You can’t learn from your mistakes either. Accept God’s forgiveness, forgive yourself, grow from it, and get back to living.
Comparison can be deadly. For years I struggled with comparing myself with my peers in the same age group. Most of my friends owned houses before I did, they made more money than me, and generally seemed to be enjoying life a whole lot more. In addition, my pastor friends seemed to be reaching more people than me, and I imagined that there was an excitement about their ministries that made mine seem boring. When I learned to accept the uniqueness of my own journey, and that God’s blessing and favor were on my life, regardless of my own definitions and expectations of success, I could stop comparing, and start enjoying life right where I was.
Give yourself permission to dream.
Disappointment happens. And the older you get, the more disappointments stack up and it’s easier to stop dreaming than it is to keep getting your hopes up. We focus on failures, missed opportunities, and unfulfilled hopes instead of believing that the best is yet to come. By the way, no matter how old you are, it’s still okay to believe that the best is yet to come. Dream! Have big hairy ideas. Set audacious goals and go for them. Without a vision, we parish so keep dreaming!
Appreciate where you are while taking steps to move forward.
How often do we look around ourselves and express gratitude for where we are in life, and how God has taken care of us? Gratitude is the gateway to joy and appreciating where we are gives us an excitement for what’s next. But don’t stay where you are, keep moving forward. Read another book, take another step, create strategies for reaching your goals and act on them. I heard once that a rabbit’s heart beats just as fast the day before it dies as it does when it’s younger. It keeps moving and running until the end. I want to be like the rabbit. God forbid that I ever choose to bench myself and spend my days watching TV and complaining that I’m too old. There’s just too much life to live!
I hope you choose to live a life that’s fully alive. I hope you accept God’s best for you, dream big, live gratefully, and never stop moving forward!
I read loads of books but I don’t normally write book reviews. In the case of my friend Dan Stanford’s book I couldn’t help myself.
Why? Because “Losing the Cape: The Power of Ordinary in a World of Superheroes” is the book I’ve been wanting to write for years, but Dan beat me to it. I have never resonated so clearly with an author’s message the way I have with this one.
In the book, Dan talks about the influence that comic book super heroes have had on our culture, citing their massive success in the mediums of television and movies. It’s easy to look at the rise in hero-mania and want to be more like them. We might think, “If I were stronger, faster, richer, had more time, and was resistant to injury I might be able to do some good in this world.”
The reality is that God isn’t looking for people who are able to leap tall buildings. He’s just looking for someone who’s willing to walk across the street. We don’t need to be able to stop a bullet. We can just lovingly serve others. It’s our faithfulness, not our faultlessness, that matters.
Throughout the book Dan shares the lessons he’s learned by observing people in his life who were willing to make a difference, in big and small ways, despite suffering physical limitations, lack of resources, and super powers. It’s a beautiful picture of the Kingdom of God as it should be.
I laughed, teared up, and like a good Marvel movie, wished it would have gone on just a little bit longer. Dan’s writing style is informal, funny, and clear.
“Losing the Cape: The Power of Ordinary in a World of Superheroes” hits the shelves on April 3rd but you can pre-order it on Amazon today. I highly recommend it, and I’m glad someone got around to writing the book I’ve been wanting to for a long time!