Burnout is something most Christians know all too well. Ethan Spivey of The Mission Chattanooga asks why we suffer from this malady—and offers some biblical solutions.
I’m one of the most fair-skinned people that I know. It’s not that the sun and I are enemies. We experience one another, but not for long periods of time. However, over the years, we’ve had some not so pleasant encounters, which has created precautionary rhythms in my life.
I recently had the opportunity to go on vacation with my family to Orange Beach, Alabama. As I relaxed on the beach, I was constantly looking for God to speak to me through His creation. So many metaphors and analogies came flooding in: the ocean waves constantly pounding the shore, the depth and vastness of the ocean, the beauty of the moon beaming over the waters, the uncountable grains of sand that danced upon my feet, and the shadows proving the sunshine.
God was all around me, yet somehow He still felt distant. There is nothing more frustrating than going on vacation to rest, longing for God to rejuvenate you, and feeling desperate as your time of rest comes to an end.
The Human Lobster
On our last day, Lizzie, my wife, and I went for one last stroll on the beach in the early morning. One of our favorite things to do while at the beach is “people watching.” I know; I know… you probably just thought to yourself, “Creepsters,” but it’s not something that we do to make fun of anyone; we simply love seeing all of the different types of people that are at the beach. And if we’re all honest, most of us have done this at least once, either at the beach or somewhere else.
As we walked, I remembered someone that we had seen earlier that week. The guy was dark red from head to toe. He was as close to being a human lobster as I had ever seen. I could almost physically feel the pain of his sunburn for him. We couldn’t help but have compassion on him.
I remembered the times that I had gotten badly burned. It was something that I never wanted to experience again. It led me to go the extra mile in making sure that I avoided being sunburned at all cost: buying ridiculously high spf sunscreen, keeping my shirt on as much as possible, making the shade my best friend, and re-applying sunscreen again and again. I followed these daily rhythms at the beach to ensure that I would not get sunburned.
And in the midst of dwelling upon sunburn, in a moment where I wasn’t expecting God to speak, He did.
“If you prepare to keep from being sunburned with such consistency and caution, why do you not prepare with the same consistency and caution to keep yourself from becoming burnt out? You’ve been longing for Me to speak and give you rest, yet your life doesn’t contain a constant rhythm of rest for Me to be able to do that. The god of works and productivity that you often serve does not prepare you for the brutal sun-rays of this world. You become burnt out when you depend too much on your self, and not on Me. You become burnt out when the demands and responsibilities that you carry yourself or carry for others becomes too much to bear, instead of letting Me carry them for you.”
Are You Burned Out?
Burnout. Sadly, it’s something that most Christians know all too well, and nothing gets in the way of living on mission more than burnout. It often hits when we get caught up in all of our human “doing,” and causes us to forget that we are a human “being” first and foremost. It sneaks up on you the same way the sun changes the color of your skin. You think you’re doing okay, until the lighting of the condo reveals that the rest of your week is going to be painful and uncomfortable.
When we experience burnout at such a high rate in Christianity, it beckons me to ask this question, “Are you doing more than what God has asked you to do?” And yes, that means that the cliche, Christian phrase, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” is not true. If we could handle and do everything that God gives us to do, then we wouldn’t need God. The truth is that we will face things in this life that are too much for us to handle, and in those moments, when we try to carry them, instead of giving them to God, burnout is inevitable.
Burnout is harmful. It has actually destroyed many churches, ministries, and individuals. It can rattle every man and woman from the mission God has called them to do. Over and over again I have seen Christians take on more than what God has asked them and almost every time it has resulted in burnout. Work isn’t essentially harmful (neither is the sun). It’s a part of this life; however, God does not associate our identity with our work, nor does God command working to the extent of burnout. Rather, our work is to be centered on Him, while taking the proper time to rest in Him. By preparing times of rest with God, we allow our work to bring glory to Him, instead of our work becoming our god. Kris Vallatton once said, “God cares more about who you are than what you do.” I find this to not only be true, but also liberating. Your time with God is more important to the mission than what you do for Him.
A Biblical Solution
Our church, The Mission Chattanooga, has recently begun a sermon series on the Exodus. While reading through Exodus 18, Moses takes wise counsel from his father-in-law, Jethro, by delegating the position of judge to other men in the community that he saw fit to hear and care for the nation’s needs. Jethro realized that this position would have been too much for Moses to handle on his own, and ultimately result in burnout. Moses had to realize that God had called him to judge certain things, but not everything.
This is a beautiful rhythm that we can follow to keep from experiencing burnout in our lives. Listening to others around us, especially those who have more experience in this life than us, and taking counsel from what they see happening in our lives is crucial in identifying burnout before it happens.
Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” By delegating work to others, it allowed for others to participate in God’s mission for the nation of Israel. When we delegate work that was not intended for us to do alone, we create opportunities for others in the Church to take on responsibility that makes them feel valued in the community and also fulfills the law of Christ.
In listening to wise counsel and delegating, Moses’ personal care was met, and he didn’t experience burnout, freeing him to rest and succeed in the work and mission to which God had called him.
We avoid burnout by listening to those who care for us, delegating and accepting help from others in the community that God has surrounded us with, and taking the proper time to rest in Jesus throughout our week.
Resting in Jesus
While these are great practical rhythms that we can establish, the ultimate healing and recovery for burnout comes from resting and abiding in Jesus. This resting will be different for everyone, because we all find rest in Jesus through different avenues. For some, it may even mean seeking professional help. But when we find our rest in Jesus and abide in Him, we quiet our “doing” and still our hearts to become the human “being” that God longs for us to be.
As we were driving home from the beach, we experienced a gorgeous sunset. It was a little reminder; as if God was saying, “I even set the motion of the Sun on a rhythm in order to give you rest from its’ heat.” When we experience burnout, it not only hurts us and those around us, but it hurts our Father as well, because He longs to protect us and give us rest.
“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
References: S. Michael Houdmann & Kris Vallotton
Ethan Spivey and his wife, Lizzie, live in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He serves as the Youth Ministry Director at The Mission Chattanooga and is currently in development to become a priest. Contact Ethan.