A Report From the Valley of the Shadow of Burnout

The last year has been really difficult for a number of reasons, most of which have to do with my work life and not with my personal life.

A couple of months ago, my attitude and overall emotional health hit a sort of “rock bottom.” I couldn’t put my finger on what the problem was, but I was more discouraged than I had ever been.

“Is it anxiety?” *Googles signs of anxiety* “Maybe…but not really.”

“Is it depression?” *Googles signs of depression* “Nope.”

“If it isn’t anxiety or depression,” I wondered, “What is going on? Why I do I feel frustrated and tired like I cannot make any progress in anything I do?”

“Ah!” A light bulb went off in my head. “I bet I’m experiencing burnout!”

“Is it burnout?” *Googles signs of burnout* “THAT’S IT!”

 

I couldn’t believe how happy I was to discover I was feeling burned out. It was the happiest I had been in weeks. The irony.

Eric Geiger, senior pastor of Mariners Church in Irvine, CA wrote back in 2015 about signs of burnout. When I was evaluating my feelings a couple months back, I checked every single one of these boxes:

  1. Frustration with people
  2. Difficulty focusing
  3. Physical signs of stress
  4. Feeling exhausted

When I finally recognized that burnout was what I was facing, I had been experiencing all of these symptoms in varying degrees of intensity for months. While I am still in the throes of burnout and have not yet exited the valley, identifying burnout as the culprit of my feelings was emancipating.

Like I said, I am still in the midst of feeling super burnt out. I feel better now than I did a month or so ago, but the feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and exhaustion still persist. However, some relief has come because of a few steps I’ve taken to find shelter in the valley of burnout. Below are a few ways I have fought and am currently fighting my burnout. I don’t know if they will all help you, but they have helped me.

I cling to the Scripture like never before.

Most of the time I have been a Christian, daily Bible reading has been difficult. Historically, if I get in God’s Word five times in a week it is a good week, and if I feel “refreshed” by it three of those five times, it feels “worth it.” Reading Scripture and praying each day has often felt burdensome to me in the past.

Since about this summer, though, when I started to really feel discouraged and spent, I have clung to my Bible reading like it is water in the desert. I have never felt like I need to read Scripture like I have the last six months or so.

Lately, reading Scripture in the morning has truly felt like inhaling as much oxygen as I can before I dive underwater for the day.

Being reminded of who God is and what he wants for me has been everything to me the last six months. It really puts the rest of my day into perspective and it reminds me that nothing that happens in a given day can make the truth of the Scripture untrue.

I had to take time off work.

Thankfully, Susie and I have had a vacation scheduled for the end of September since this summer because, if we hadn’t, I think I still would have found a way to take some time off. Spending last week in Southern California was refreshing. I’m typically not a big fan of the beach—sitting out in the sun for hours and sweating isn’t my idea of “relaxing”—but a few days of 75 degree temperatures with a good book on an empty beach was good.

One of the most important parts of the trip for me was abandoning my email for a week and reminding myself (and others) that life will go on if I cannot respond to emails for six days. It is good for us to be reminded often that our little worlds will continue to operate if we are absent from them.

I exercise almost every single day.

Last winter a Planet Fitness opened about a half mile away from my house and I usually go about five times a week. I also try to go for walks around my neighborhood regularly, especially if I can’t get to the gym on a particular day.

I start working about 6 AM most days and commuting at about 5 AM, so working out in the morning isn’t really practical for me. I prefer to work out around 3-4 PM if I can manage it as it is a nice transition from my typical work day to whatever ministry commitments I have in the evening.

Getting ready to go work out is a struggle every single time. It doesn’t really ever sound appealing. But it feels great to have worked out just about every time as well. It helps me reflect on the day and physically work out any built up frustration (of which there is plenty in my burnt out state) that I may have.

I voraciously protect and enjoy my Sabbath.

Susie and I try to keep Saturday as our Sabbath day. Obviously Monday through Friday don’t work as a Sabbath for us, and we have the high schoolers from our youth group over every Sunday for lunch after church, so Sunday usually isn’t very restful. We try to do as much housework, grocery shopping, and the like on Sundays or the weekdays, and we leave Saturday as open as we can, often hanging out with friends in the evening.

Christians have different ideas of what Sabbath should look like, but my Sabbath generally consists of spending plenty of time reading Scripture, praying, and enjoying the gifts God has given me. I try to eat a nice breakfast on Saturdays (like Cinnamon Toast Crunch), one I wouldn’t normally eat other days. I may make an extra cup of coffee. I read good books or play video games with friends. I just try to enjoy what the Lord has given me while praising him for what he’s given me at the same time.

I completely detach myself from my work on Saturday. Sometimes I mow the grass on Saturdays if I feel like it. Sometimes I’ll write a sermon for youth group. But most “chores” are usually left for Sunday if possible.

I remind myself that my value is not found in my work.

I try to do a good job at everything I do. Like most people, I often have unrealistic expectations for myself. I can be a critical person in general, and there is no one I criticize more than I criticize myself. I battle constant feelings of unworthiness, impostor syndrome, and the general feeling that I am not good enough to be where I am or doing what I am doing. It’s pretty torturous, honestly.

It is easy for me to try to find my value in my work—to be defined by my successes and my failures. This last year has been difficult not because I’ve failed, but because the success I’ve achieved has felt meaningless. Success hasn’t delivered value, and like with any idol, it has left me feeling empty.

So the last couple of months, through my time in the Scripture and in talking with friends, I have been reminded that my value, for good or for bad, is not found in my work. This has helped me fight my burnout a lot.

A Final Thought

Through all of this, what I have learned is that my burnout is not due to having too much work to do. Sure, I have plenty of work to do and sometimes it feels as though I will never be able to keep up with everything. But that isn’t what led to burnout. I think my burnout, and perhaps the burnout of many others, is not due to workload and overwork, but attitude and priorities.

The last year or so, I think I’ve cared too much about work. I’ve sought meaning and value in the wrong places, and my misplaced seeking has found exhaustion and frustration.

Don’t wallow in burnout. Fight it with truth and cling to God’s Word. Find your value in Christ’s finished work, not your unfinished work.