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Burnout - Real or Perceived, and Is There Hope When We Struggle With It?

PLEASE CONTINUE READING! IMPORTANT INFORMATION! I don’t know if that grabbed your attention or simply annoyed you, but what I am writing to you in this “Theology & Culture” (T&C) blog is a very important topic, one that I believe is not talked as much about in our world as in the past, but is still a problem in 2023.


In fact, as I looked at this topic on the worldwide web, I saw that “burnout” is a struggle and a real “thing” for many. In July of 2022, Forbes Magazine had a headline that read, “Burnout Is A Worldwide Problem: 5 Ways Work Must Change.”


In this edition of T&C we will discuss what burnout is, share a story of someone I know who experienced it to the point that they felt the pressure to resign from their job, and finish with some Biblical advice on how we can handle burnout.


First, though, we must define what burnout is along with clearing up some misinformation that some attach to it. No doubt it is connected to the feeling of being exhausted, socially, physically, as well as emotionally and spiritually. At times, our work or life situations take so much out of us that we feel we have no energy left to keep going and think, or know, that things need to change. More time off, less workload and stress, more realistic expectations put on us by others may be thoughts we have.


Burnout can also be characterized by a sense that what we are doing does not matter, that we are just a cog in the machinery of our job, service, or community involvement. If not careful, it can lead to feelings of discouragement and doubt. Are we in the right job? Am I serving where God wants me to? Do I need to re-evaluate things?


These questions and more can rush through our minds as we deal with trying to recover from this issue that even plagues Christians at times. Having said these things, I want to take a moment to clear up some unfortunate misinformation that people cannot seem to get past - it is the thought that all burnout is connected to depression or that depression leads to burnout.


It is true that burnout and depression can go hand-in-hand, but to automatically assume that someone who is experiencing burnout is also depressed is wrong. It is us projecting our “diagnosis” on them without considering their personalities, how God has wired them, along with some other factors that need to be thought about - workload, overbooked calendars, stress, etc.


This quick view to come to the judgment that if we are dealing with someone with burnout, they must also be depressed, leads to more issues because of false accusations that accompany the person’s situation. We must be careful to take each person’s circumstances individually, and when helping those dealing with burnout, not be quick to jump to conclusions.


As an example, I knew a pastor (and he is not the only one in my profession) who went through a short time of burnout. He had overextended himself in many areas of his ministry and had reached a point of exhaustion. The problem came when he verbalized his burnout. He stated as clearly as possible that the issue was of his making, and that the church he served at was not the cause.


In fact, he loved the church where he was serving. Unfortunately, not everyone was pleased with his “bearing of the soul” moment. To make matters worse, to some within the church, he had noted his burnout on social media. From there, things spiraled downward. Some accused him of being depressed (which he was not, since I knew him well), but he was, as noted, physically drained.


This did not matter. There were those who had reached the conclusion that he was indeed in a state of depression without even talking to him. That just made the situation worse. There is more to the story but eventually he resigned and God led him to a church where he has had a joyful ministry.


Keep in mind that some positions (whether it be in leadership of an organization, parenting, head of a community club) require much energy and if we are not careful to recharge ourselves, we also can experience burnout.


Now, let us discuss some ways of helping ourselves and others who may be going through such a time in their lives. I do believe we get some solid Biblical advice from a situation in the life of a man named Elijah. The help, more directly, is from God, but Elijah was burned out, tired, discouraged, and feeling alone. The story is found in 1 Kings 19.


Elijah had just experienced seeing God in action in 1 Kings 18. He seemed energized as he obeyed God and was used by God to show the people of Israel that the false idols that they had been so enamored with could not offer them hope. And God had done some incredible things seen by Elijah.


In chapter 19, though, life has changed. Elijah is found running for his life from the queen of Israel. This after experiencing a work of the Lord just prior to this event. But this prophet of God was indeed struggling. He was exhausted. In that state, and we need to remember this, his outlook on life became fuzzy and skewed. He saw himself as the only one who was serving God, and at times if we are not careful, in the midst of burnout, we see ourselves as the lone wolf doing the job or we think we are indispensable. I mean, if we do not step up, who will.


But God’s grace and love that He shows to Elijah at this time can be of help to us. Let me share just a few thoughts that I pray will be of encouragement to those who may be battling burnout.


1) Guard against condemning ourselves or others. As you read through 1 Kings 19, one thing God does not do is drop the hammer on the prophet. He will correct Him, yes, but the Lord does not deride Elijah for being “spiritually weak,” an accusation often leveled at someone in burnout. We must also guard against the “woe is me” mindset. We pass blame, either on ourselves or others.


2) Get rest and recharge. This is hard to do when we have a job. But we need to take time to relax. Read a book, do things with our families, watch a movie. In vs. 5 Elijah fell asleep. It is okay to relax and recharge. In fact, it is a necessity. Jesus did it. He prayed and set aside time away from people to talk to His Father.


3) Get close to God. After Elijah recharges he goes on a forty-day joourney (vs. 8). There is no doubt that God was teaching him along the way. We need to open our Bibles, study the Word, pray, talk to others. Getting close to God does not require some super miracle or dramatic happening. It is as simple as talking to God, reading the Word, listening and thinking.


4) Get the right perspective and get the right facts. Elijah, though he alone, was serving God. In vss. 14-18, after Elijah tells God about his plight, the Lord reminds him that there are 7,000 others in Israel who refused to bow to the false god Baal. God has something better for us than staying in our burned-out condition. We must, though, step back and analyze what led to the burnout.


5) Get up, serve, and do what God wants us to do. In vss. 15-18 Elijah is given a job to do. I know that sounds odd because we have talked about being burned out physically, but in this instance, we must focus on helping others. We need to get outside of ourselves. Get active serving God. It helps.

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