Recently, I was talking to a friend who works at a non-profit. She is passionate about what she does. She is talented and has experience that qualifies her to do her job. She gets along well with her co-workers and genuinely loves serving the people of her community. She is, in short, really good at what she is doing.
However, lately when we talk, I hear a note of tiredness and perhaps frustration in her voice. She is overworked and her organization is understaffed, and as a result important things sometimes fall through the cracks. Her work is never done, and often crowds into her weekends and even her rare vacations. Because of her amazing level of commitment and dedication she runs the risk of burning out, which would basically be a disaster for her organization.
Burnout looks a lot like being in the wrecker’s yard:
I am sure many of us involved in church or non-profit work have experienced those feelings at some point or another, and it can certainly help to know we are not alone. Perhaps you are just getting started and as you look through rose-colored glasses, you imagine the passion you have for your work will sustain you, no matter what. Obviously, passion to do what God has called you to, whether it’s pastoring, working the sound booth or volunteering in a local shelter, is extremely important.
Unfortunately passion alone is probably not going to sustain you when the going gets tough. In fact, sometimes the very things we are so passionate about are the very things that drain every last drop of energy out of us. Adil Abrar in a talk called, The Dark Side of Doing Good, described the phenomenon as feeling hollowed out:
“What is it to give yourself to an idea? Where the thing you love is the thing that hollows you out. Dedicating yourself to something that becomes all consuming because you believe in the idea and the impact this has on yourself and your relationships. Finding something where you have to give up something of yourself and your relationships and not think about the problems this might create because you believe in the idea.”
The feeling of running on empty was never God’s intention for us.
3 Keys to Avoid Burnout
So how can we prevent burnout in the areas God has called us to?
It would be too easy to say, “Well, God has called us, He’ll sustain us”. Obviously though, he did not create us to be robots. Let’s not forget that when He created us, he also created rest. We are supposed to rest.
As you carry on in your God-given passions, I submit to you 3 keys to prevent burnout:
1. Sabbath– Everyone needs a Sabbath. It is not a rule, it is a blessing. Pausing for a designated weekly time to rest and refresh your inner-self, will only make you stronger and more effective when you return to your tasks. Even, or perhaps especially, when you are passionate about what you are doing.
2. Seasons- God designed everything in the natural world around us to operate in rhythmic cycles. The yearly changing of the seasons allows the earth to regenerate. Every year when spring returns the earth seems fresh and new, that would not be possible without the sleepy winter before it. However, during autumn we see creatures great and small feverishly working to prepare for what is ahead. As we work diligently at whatever task God calls us to, we can and should remember that there will be times when everything will flow peacefully along, life will be good. Other times, however, we might have to extend ourselves a little further, work a little harder, just to get the job done. We can remind ourselves in those times, that it is only for a season.
3. Sabbatical- Sometimes despite our best efforts to maintain a sabbath and find a rhythm with the ebb and flow of the seasons, we will find that we simply can’t go on any longer. It is wise at those times to take a step back and realize our own limitations. Sometimes the only thing that can recharge our passion, creativity and our joy in serving is a much longer time of rest. A sabbatical can be the perfect solution to remind us that in the end, none of this is really about us, but rather about what God can do through anyone who makes themselves available to Him. Removing all pressures, both internal and external, and learning how to let it all go will either help us find new energy to carry on, or help us get to the place where we recognize it is time to move on more permanently both for our own sake and for the sake of the community we are investing in.
So where are you at?
Do you set aside a regular Sabbath?
Do you see a pattern of seasons in the passions God has given you?
Or is it perhaps finally time to take a harder look at stepping aside for a sabbatical?