Christian Living

The Cycle of Burnout

The past week or so has been pretty brutal. I had a busy day on Friday and then, on Saturday, I went to something that was important, but that I knew I didn’t have energy for. The result: a two-day migraine and four nights of insomnia. Good times.

My husband, Evan, and I have been talking a lot about margin lately. And as I was reading through my journal this morning, I was reminded that Sabbath is created rather than attained via circumstances or avoidance of circumstances. It’s proactive rather than reactive.

Burnout is the opposite. If your time, talents, resources, etc. are a garden and boundaries are what make sure you have enough fruit in your garden to feed yourself and your family and to share with others, then burnout begins with a garden of scarcity. From my personal experience, burnout comes when I start from a place of exhaustion and lack in my own life and then try to use my scanty resources on others (my kids, my friends, my Church, etc.) instead of making sure I’m fed.

I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t give sacrificially for others–we should. But there’s a difference between sacrificing and putting yourself in burnout. Sacrificing is when you choose to give something that is a stretch. However, part of that whole loving ourselves as we love others equation means that we shouldn’t give to the point that we’re starving. It’s still sacrificial giving to give away your time, energy, talents, etc. even if you can survive without that particular resource.

I’ve been thinking about 2 Cor. 9:7 which says, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (NIV).  It’s impossible to be a cheerful giver when you’re in burnout–just like it’s impossible to think creatively, problem-solve, or any of those other things your brain shuts off when you’re in survival mode. You end up giving reluctantly or because it’s the “right” thing to do instead of something you want to give. It may feel spiritual, but it’s actually not. It doesn’t reflect who God is. It doesn’t make for healthier relationships or a healthier Church.

See, here’s the thing: when we give out of lack, we ourselves then have to be taken care of. When we’re full of the Holy Spirit and all Sabbathed-up, we’re giving from a place of abundance. That doesn’t mean we don’t need God to refill us daily or that we don’t need a weekly Sabbath. Burnout begins with lack and leads to more and more lack. It’s a vicious cycle. True, healthy giving begins with abundance. It starts with being full and then reaches out.

What about you guys? Any helpful tips on avoiding burnout?

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