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.

5 Ways to Get More Out of Your Daily Devos

It’s nearly the end of January, and if you’re like me, one of your New Years resolutions (or “commitments” or whatever, if you’re anti-resolutions) may have been to read your Bible more consistently or with more enthusiasm.

I’m not doing too bad, but I could definitely be doing better. I’m a pretty task-oriented guy, but I can get my priorities out of whack sometimes, which leads to me playing Playstation or watching Netflix before I’ve spent any time in the Bible for the day.

One of the main reasons a lot of us probably have a hard time reading our Bibles with consistency is because it can feel dry or boring to us. We find ourselves falling asleep more than falling in love with the Law, as we see David doing in Psalm 119.

It can be really difficult to stay focused while reading Scripture, let alone get excited about what it tells us about who God is and who we are.

I am thankful that I attended Taylor University for a multitude of reasons, and one of those reasons is that I got to study a bit with a guy by the name of Dr. Phil Collins (no, not this one). Phil is an incredible professor: he knows his material, he loves his students, he loves his family, and he loves the Word of God.

Phil and Dr. Steven Bird (a master statistician) have been working together for a number of years on a Scripture Engagement project through Taylor University, and have established the Taylor University Center for Scripture Engagement. My wife Susie got to help out in some of the early stages of this project on a trip to Singapore, and it has been a joy for me to see Phil’s passion for the Word of God translate into this important ministry.

He recently partnered with Bible Gateway to host a good amount of the practical material on their site. You need to check it out. The vision of the Center for Scripture Engagement is simply this: “to equip people to engage the Scriptures in ways that will drive evangelism, personal discipleship, worldview formation, and church planting.” Maybe you’ll consider partnering with them in some way.

Anyway, most days, I try to engage with Scripture in ways that go beyond simply reading it and putting it down. It helps me understand and think about what I’ve just read if I DO something with what I’ve just read. Maybe it’s the same for you. Here are five easy ways that you can engage with the Bible in such a way that you may get a little more out of your daily devos:

1. Journaling Scripture

This one is definitely my favorite, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best. My brain works in such a way that I might understand something 70% as well as I could when I read about it—I tend to be a pretty distracted reader at times. But usually I feel like if I write about something I read, I get all 100% out of what I read. I think this is why teachers and professors make us write papers about things.

When it comes to the Bible or any other book, really, I might get 70-80% out of it when I just sit and read it. But man, if I can write about it, I’ll really be rockin’-and-rollin’.

What’s journaling Scripture? It’s exactly what it sounds like: writing out questions, reflections, or any other thoughts you may have. A lot of times, I’ll just do a Discovery Bible Study in my journal, which is a great way to get deep into the text.

This is why I started blogging in the first place, long, long ago.

2. Hand Copying Scripture

This is my SECOND favorite way to engage Scripture beyond just reading it. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Instead of reading a passage and putting your Bible away after bumbling through names like Amminadab, Jehoshaphat, and others, take the time to write out the Scripture for yourself.

This might sound really boring and lame, but trust me, you’ll be surprised what you catch when you write it out for yourself.

There is a great tool for doing this, too! They’re called Journibles, and they help you both copy Scripture and engage with it like in the journaling method above. I’ve done the Romans Journible. I highly recommend you check those out.

3. Praying Scripture

This is a popular one that I’ve heard about from a number of friends. What does it really mean to “pray the Scriptures” though? Phil has a helpful explanation:

Praying the Scriptures allows you to use the words and emotions of the Bible to gain more confidence in your prayers.  What do we mean when we say to “pray scripture?”  Evan Howard (Praying the Scriptures) writes, “To pray the Scriptures is to order one’s time of prayer around a particular text in the Bible.”  This can mean either praying the prayers of the Bible word-for-word as your own prayers, personalizing portions of the Scriptures in prayer, or praying through various topics of the Bible.

I need to try this one out more often, to be sure.

4. Memorizing Scripture

This is one method of Scripture Engagement most Christians are familiar with. Many of us grow up in church memorizing Bible verses for candy or stars or something like that.

Honestly, I’ve always been really awful at memorizing Scripture. I think it is because of both 1) a lack of discipline, and 2) a difficulty remembering things. There are some passages I know and will always know (like Psalm 23), but memorizing Scripture is super tough for me, and takes a lot of work for most (some more than others).

Thankfully, there are a number of great tools for memorizing Scripture, especially now with the revolution of the smartphone.

My favorite method of memorizing Scripture is through the Fighter Verses app on my iPhone. Fighter Verses were created by Children Desiring God, an organization I was supremely blessed to intern with one summer. I love the Fighter Verses app. Also, fun fact, I wrote all of the trivia questions for all of the verses!

5. Visualizing Scripture

This is one that I have definitely never done, but would love to at least try sometime. For those of you who are more artsy types, it may be beneficial for you to engage with the Bible by making some sort of art to go along with what you’re reading.

You don’t need to paint the ceiling of your church like you’re Michelangelo or something, but you could do some art in your journal, or paint a picture, or something like that. I am about the least artistic person on the planet, so this is not as appealing to me as some of the other methods, but I might give it a shot sometime!