By Sharon Jaynes
I sat on the edge of my seat as I watched my son’s first track meet. The crowd was abuzz as parents chatted, waiting for their teens to dash, sprint, or endure the long 3,200 meter race. But when the boys lined up for the hurdles event the crowd watched with rapt attention. Why? It became less about who would win, and more about who would gracefully leap and clear the metal roadblocks or trip and topple the intentional barriers.
Hurdles. They are not only found on the asphalt of track and field but also in the great race called life. We face common hurdles such as finding balance, working with unique personalities, balancing budgets, dealing with difficult people, evaluating criticism, juggling family demands, and trying to take care of ourselves…just to name a few.
One hurdle that looms over every woman is burnout. Our flame of enthusiasm begins to diminish when we are either doing more than God intended or doing what God intended in on our own strength rather than His.
Burnout is not a new concept. In the Bible we see many who experienced burnout. After Jonah’s miraculous delivery from the big fish and prophetic announcement to the people of Nineveh, he sank into depression and wanted to die (Jon. 4:3). After Elijah called down fire from heaven that burned up the sacrifices of Baal, the fire in his own life went dim (1 Kings 18-19). Elijah prayed, “I have had enough, LORD. Take my life” (1 Kings 19:4). Both of these men wanted to quit.
How do we avoid those same feelings of emptiness and despair? The first step is to realize that it can happen and does happen to the best of us.
Burnout is defined as “a state of mental and/or physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” It is a gradual process that seems to occur in three stages.
Initial Stress Response: In the beginning, stress may manifest itself with physiological symptoms (stomach problems, insomnia, headaches, heart palpitations, high blood pressure) and psychological symptoms (crying, irritability, forgetfulness, and inability to concentrate).
Compensation Response: Under stress, a person may attempt to compensate and adapt. If the attempts fail, behavior might include procrastination, excessive lateness, persistent fatigue, social withdrawal from family and friends, and apathy.
Exhaustion: It is during this third stage that most people admit that something may be wrong. Chronic symptoms include sadness or depression, stomach or bowel problems, mental and/or physical fatigue, headaches, thoughts of suicide, and withdrawal from people and events that used to bring pleasure and fulfillment.
We can see the above progression of burnout in the prophet Elijah. What was God’s response to Elijah? Let’s take a look at 1 Kings Chapter 19.
Rest - He allowed Elijah to sleep (19:5).
Refreshment - He sent an angel to provide food for him to eat (19:5).
More Rest - He allowed Elijah to sleep again (19:6).
More Refreshment - He sent an angel to provide food for him to eat again (19:7).
Reflection - He caused Elijah to ponder what he was doing. “What are you doing here?” (19:9).
Relationship - He spoke to Elijah personally (19:11).
More Reflection - He caused Elijah to ponder what he was doing, again. “What are you doing here?” (19:13).
Redirection - He told Elijah what to do next (19:15).
Reinforcement - He showed Elijah who He had appointed to help him (19:16).
The four major factors in burnout are (1) time pressures, (2) excessive responsibility or accountability, (3) lack of support, and (4) excessive expectations from yourself and those around you. Any one or a combination of these factors can result in stress from overload.
The most effective way to avoid burnout is to be in constant communion with God the Father. Author and teacher Henry Blackaby notes: God has a plan for each person that is uniquely suited to that individual. Unlike people, God never piles on more than someone can handle. God never drives His servants to the point of breakdown. If this is true, why do so many people struggle with too much to do, burning out from overwork and exhaustion? Is God responsible? No. When people become overwhelmed by their commitments and responsibilities, they are operating on their own agenda. Ministers of religion (and women in ministry) are particularly susceptible to assuming responsibility for things they should not. They do this because their work is never completed. There is always another phone call to make, a Scripture passage to study, a person who needs visiting, a prayer to be offered. The key is to examine each of their current responsibilities to determine whether they have inadvertently assumed ownership for things God has not intended them to carry.
In Mark 1:35, Jesus gives us the key to avoiding overload, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed.”
Early in the morning Jesus went off by Himself and spent time alone with God. Interestingly, Simon and his companion interrupted Jesus’ time of prayer. “Everyone is looking for you!” they exclaimed. The day before, Jesus had healed many men and women. No doubt, the disciples and the townspeople wanted Jesus to return to perform more miracles. But Jesus had a different idea…”Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby village – so I can preach there also. That’s why I have come.”
I don’t know about you, but by 8 a.m., my phone begins ringing with people making requests and demands on my time. How do we know when to say “yes” and when to say “no”? Jesus gives us the answer right there in Mark 1:35. We begin our day with God by praying and asking Him to give us our marching orders.
Would it have been a good and noble thing for Jesus to go back to Capernaum and minister to the people there? Yes, it would have been good, but perhaps not God’s best. He knew what God’s plans were for Him that day and He could say “yes” and “no” with confidence.
No matter where you are on the continuum of blazing spiritual passion or smoldering wick, here are some ideas to avoid burnout and rekindle the fire.
- Rest often. (God rested on the seventh day.)
- Refresh with proper diet.
- Re-evaluate commitments, priorities, and responsibilities regularly.
- Relegate and delegate for reinforcement.
- Redirect by saying “no” to demands and requests that do not line up with what God has called you to do.
- Reflect on what God has called you to do rather than what others would like you to do.
- Remain in close and constant communion with God.
Inviting God to fuel and fan the flames of our ministry passion each day is the key way to avoid burnout.
Take the following test to see if you are headed for burnout. Choose the most appropriate answer for each of the following ten statements.
How often do you…
a. almost always b. often c. seldom d. almost never
___ 1. Find yourself with insufficient time to do things you really enjoy?
___ 2. Wish you had more support/assistance?
___ 3. Lack insufficient time to complete your work most effectively?
___ 4. Have difficulty falling asleep because you had too much on your mind?
___ 5. Feel people simply expect too much from you?
___ 6. Feel overwhelmed?
___ 7. Find yourself becoming forgetful or indecisive because you have too much on
___ 8. Consider yourself to be in high-pressure situation?
___ 9. Feel you have too much responsibility for one person?
___10. Feel exhausted at the end of the day?
Calculate your total score as follows:
a = 4 points; (b) = 3 points; (c)= 2 points; (d)= 1 point
Your total number of points on this exercise will help you assess how stressed you are by overload. A total of 25-40 points indicates a high stress level, one that could be psychologically and physiologically debilitating…thus leading to burnout. This exercise was designed to assess your level of stress due to overload. Overload, or overstimulation, refers to the state in which the demands around you exceed your capacity to meet them. Some aspects of your life are placing excessive demands on you. When these demands exceed your ability to comply with them, you experience distress.