Bypassing Burnout

Ah summer! It’s almost here! I don’t know about you, but there’s just something about the months of June, July, and August that nothing else compares to. Even as an adult, I find it’s the time of year I look forward to the most…acting like a schoolboy in honest anticipation and glee. For many of us, the daily work and home routines can be exhausting and finding a respite for a few months is such a welcome thing.

Heading into summer may seem like an odd time to address an issue like burnout. After all, summer is a time of sipping iced tea while laying in a hammock curled up with a good book! While that might be an idyllic picture, it seems these next 3 months rarely have enough of those moments. Beyond just summer, burnout is a 365-day-a-year struggle. We often are on the brink of succumbing to it.

Christians have a clear responsibility to guard against burnout in our own lives. We have a great example to follow in the life and ministry of Christ, in which even He pulled away for moments of renewal and rest: But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:16 We create bypasses and margins in our lives to avoid burnout. We have to incorporate methods that keep us afloat when demands and pressures are high. Summer is a great time to start thinking about this subject because we know fall comes all too quickly and soon we will back “into the swing of things.” Without any fault of our own, some of us simply don’t know how to avoid burnout. I’m in the thick of that fight alongside anyone else, but here are some guidelines I have followed over the years (a lot of this is “borrowed content” from others much wiser than I):
1. Set clear boundaries
If you are a people-pleaser like me, this can be a tough guideline to follow. It’s hard to say no and many of us would rather take on more than we can handle rather than disappoint someone else. It’s the disappointment that we struggle with and the thought we might be letting someone else down. This is where setting proper boundaries comes in and whole books, seminars, and conferences have been established on this issue alone. Boundaries will vary from person to person you come in contact with. If you struggle with boundaries and saying no, you will always have people willing to take more from you than you can give. Sometimes it’s ok to simply acknowledge this openly. Even at the risk of a friendship or colleague relationship, be honest in what you can offer. This leads to less frustration down the road.
My wife and I have 4 boys and I find we are constantly putting boundaries up just to guard our family time. It’s very precious to us and work demands, creative and ministry endeavors…even things like social media all need their proper place. The age of technology markets itself as being able to simplify our lives. In reality, it can make life seem busier. Quick tip: no phones should be allowed at the dinner table. And if you aren’t having supper at least one night a week as a family or as a husband and wife (Mon-Fri), take steps to change that. I could go on much further about this area alone and maybe it’s a separate blog at some point. But put good boundaries in place in your life. You’ll never regret it.
2. Make sure your input is equal to your output
In order to give of yourself and pour into other people, you yourself must be getting filled on a regular basis. What is it that fills your tank emotionally, spiritually, and physically? Maybe traveling, perhaps doing art-projects, being outdoors/hiking, going to concerts/sporting events etc. You need to schedule breaks within your calendar and allow yourself moments to breath and recharge. Be a bit selfish here and think about what you love to do. Start making it a priority even in the busyness to have moments that will fill you up again.
Having been in ministry either full-time or part-time over the last 7 years, I can tell you that I needed to learn this guideline a lot earlier. It came to me much later as my wife and I both served together; honestly, we were naive to what we needed. Output in ministry is always high and ministers are prime targets for burnout. I believe Christ withdrew and had moments of prayer because He walked in human flesh. In His physical body, He forced Himself to set aside His divine nature and therefore needed regular appointments with the Father. How much more do we need that? Quick tip: beyond just the things you love to do, how are you setting aside your time of prayer and Bible reading daily? Those moments are key for your spiritual input and growth.
3. Prioritize what matters
It stinks to admit it, but so much of what actually burns us out are really inconsequential things. They may seem bigger in the moment but in reality, they aren’t worth the extra time and effort we give them. I keep coming back to social media because I know it’s a huge time-waster and a recipe for burnout if I allow it to be (read A Social Media Warning Label and 3 Social Media Rules For Christians). Because social media involves an inherent comparison aspect (with displays of “look at my perfect life”), we start to think of the reasons we don’t measure up and how much harder we should be working. Realize that nothing on social media is ever as it appears and there is no perfect life out there (sorry Facebook!)
You have to have a priority system in place. For us as Christians, if Christ is not first everything will unravel. God, family, church, job….there needs to be decision made that determines who or what gets your time. Obviously, all of time is God’s. But we have to develop habits of incorporating Him into every aspect of daily life. I’ve had the mental picture of a wheel with spokes coming out of it. If the center hub is Christ, the wheel will be strong and balanced. But if something else is in that place, the wheel is going to run flat very fast. Quick tip: right now take a moment to evaluate your priority list. What certain people or things need reassignment? It is a constant battle to keep that list in the right order and so many things will fight for the #1 spot in your life.

Today’s blog is more of a practical approach than perhaps some other things I’ve written lately. For me that’s intentional because often I need concrete steps and guide-rails in place to do life more effectively. None of what I’ve written here is to take the place of actually doing ministry or being on the frontlines in our faith. It’s quite the opposite as we talk about taking steps to follow Christ. If we are to be effective, we have to take care of the physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional aspects of our lives. We put in place habits that help us stay in the game not just for the short-term but the long-term as well. We are of no use in the Kingdom if we fall prey to burnout. And burnout is a place that can lead to much more serious things including backslides and walking away from the faith altogether.

Let’s use these summer months to determine how we will bypass burnout and be ready for fall when it arrives at our door. I’m here to encourage and am always encouraged by you. Let’s sharpen each other.

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