A few years ago, I started feeling really stressed. I found myself being short with others over very small matters. I didn’t like what was happening in my life. I also began to wonder if I was getting defensive about myself. So, I went to the real source where I knew I could get the truth and nothing but the truth—my grown up daughter. I decided to broach the subject while driving down the street on the way to a shopping trip.
“Honey,” I murmured, “do you think that I am getting defensive over small things in my life?”
She looked at me, and I read her face as only a mother can do. I could feel it coming. “Yes, Mom, it is harder to bring certain subjects up with you because you always try to justify yourself.”
Ouch, that hurt! I realized I seriously needed to have some time with the Lord . . . and I needed a stress break.
My close friends and I have a little joke when things are going especially rough: “Let’s go to Maui, or maybe some deserted island, and lay on the beach away from all these people and their stuff!”
Being a leader is stressful. If you are a pastor, you might be suffering from “sheep bite”—the marks on your soul from helping God’s people only to have them attack you for your service. At times, youth pastors get crunched between the kids they serve and the generation above them. Traveling ministries sometimes deal more with “clergy bite” from breaking the cultural taboos of a local church that you don’t quite understand.
And those are just a few examples. The reality is that anyone in any kind of ministry or service or position that requires so much giving of yourself can be susceptible to intense stress and burnout.
Here are a few indicators of burnout:
You want to hide from the people you serve. The phone rings, and you shout out loud, “Nobody’s home!”
You are not a nice person anymore. You find it hard to bring yourself to be polite and resent any intrusions on your “space and time.”
It is increasingly difficult for you to stop your mind from racing in order to have private times of devotions with the Lord. Instead of thinking about God, you are making mental lists of all the things you need to accomplish that day.
You find yourself waking up tired and dreading the day. You want to go back to bed, pull the covers over your head, and staple them shut!
You are either overeating or not taking time to eat properly.
What do you do to pull yourself out of this downward spiral? You will have to deliberately change your ways. I’ll give some helpful hints, but know that it will be a process. And I should warn you that you may need to keep this list and go over it again at different stages of your life.
Here are some points on how to avoid crashing and burning:
If you haven’t read the book, Boundaries, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, do it! And implement the wisdom they offer. I read it and cried my way through parts of it.
Remember the Lord’s Day and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8). For people in ministry, most find Sunday is the hardest and most strenuous day. Whatever day it needs to be is fine—just make sure that you take at least one day a week to relax.
Work hard, but play hard too. Develop friends you can just be yourself with.
Keep an accountability group around you to tell you when you have gone overboard. If you are married, your spouse may be a good person for this; however, we also need those of our own gender to rein us in at times in personal areas.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. God will still be on His throne whether or not you get everything done in the day that you wanted to.
Do take a regular vacation of some sort with a complete change of pace.
Put time with God on your calendar everyday like you would any other appointment. If you miss it, God isn’t a legalist; just make sure that it doesn’t become a pattern.
God wants you to run the race well and be one of those who can look back and say, “I’m finishing well. I haven’t fallen into sin; I am a person of integrity and a good example to the next generation.” Protect your heart and spirit from the pitfalls of burnout, and you will be much better prepared to handle the adventures God calls you to!