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.

The Christian Social Internet and (Sorta) Learning to Shut My Virtual Mouth

When I graduated college in 2013 and entered the realm of “professional social media manager” for a world-renowned Christian leader and avid online content creator at one of the largest Christian organizations in the world, I was an idiot.

But before we get into that, let’s take a minute to explore what I’ll call the “Christian Social Internet.” This context will provide a basis for my self-reflection.

A Recent History of the Christian Social Internet

This makes me sound old, but 2013 was a much different time in the Christian Social Internet than it is today, event though it was just six years ago.

Please note this tweet, which I think provides a simple framework to shape our exploration:

In 2013-2014, the Christian Social Internet was, in my view, at Stage 2 of this progression.

Christians of varying beliefs had already gotten over the novelty of being able to connect with other believers online, and 2013-2014 seemed to be peak in-fighting on the Christian Social Internet. Ex-evangelicals were rallying around one another and evangelicals were huddling together to defend basic tenets of evangelical faith that were being called into question by people “leaving evangelicalism.”

Much of the in-fighting I was watching can be summarized most simply as a warring of worldviews between conservative evangelicals (Southern Baptists, PCAers, Reformed folks, etc.) and liberal evangelicals/Mainline protestants.

For example, I remember many a Twitter battle between Rachel Held Evans, Joe Carter, Jonathan Merritt, Jared C. Wilson, and others. Rachel and Jonathan would often contend for a more liberal view of a particular issue, while guys like Joe or Jared would contend for a more conservative view.

In my newfound role as social media manager for a well-known Christian leader, I spent a significant amount of time monitoring the conversations (read: “fights”) among Christians arguing about everything from what makes someone an “evangelical” to whether or not a megachurch pastor who has a moral failing can ever lead a church again.

I would say that, though there is division and fighting among Christians online today, it doesn’t quite match the intensity and fervor of what was going on in 2013-2014 (but some may disagree). Much of the division centers around political issues, whereas the division in 2013-2014 often related more to theology or overall worldview issues.

It was like the internet brought thousands of vocal Christians together on Twitter and when they all realized they didn’t think the same way about important issues, they fought for social confirmation of their rightness. In public. Before a watching world.

I think that, in large part, much of the Christian Social Internet has moved to Stage 3 of the progression given in my tweet above. I think many evangelical and liberal evangelicals/Mainline Protestants have come to realize that they are not going to get one another to agree on biblical sexuality, the role of women in the local church, or other hot issues.

It almost feels as though the warriors who once patrolled the Christian Social Internet have retreated to their homelands, now more interested in building up their own citizens than winning battles and seizing cultural territory.

The battles were unhealthy. They were unhelpful. None of the combatants left convinced or converted. They earned clout among their like-minded peers, but no land was actually won.

I speak as one who observed these wars, but I didn’t just observe them. Remember what I said at the beginning? I was an idiot.

I tried to enter some of these battles as an infantryman. That’s where I messed up. I played myself.

I Am Culpable

I remember standing in the eight-foot-long kitchen of our Nashville area apartment making dinner with my wife and furiously tweeting at people like Rachel Held Evans or Jonathan Merritt to tell them how dumb and misguided they were.

I also remember receiving phone calls from various people at work telling me that I need to stop tweeting.

I didn’t always listen.

I showed up to fight in a battle to which I wasn’t invited in order to take a stand no one was asking me to take so that people who don’t know me would see how smart I was.

How dumb was that?

I was so mad at people peddling what I thought were lies that I was willing to spend hours of my days tweeting at other people how wrong they were. As if they needed some 22-year-old kid to right their theology and worldview.

I was arrogant. I was pursuing my own glory. I was satisfying an urge. Yelling my two minutes of hate into the void.

It was a different time. It was, perhaps, more acceptable to do that back then. But that doesn’t excuse how I acted. I messed up. I shouldn’t have done it. I sinned against a lot of people.

I was one of those people about whom friends of mine would say, “Yeah, but he’s not like that in real life,” when defending my idiocy on Twitter. What a shame. Foolishness.

But a lot has changed since 2013-2014.

The Christian Social Internet has become more ideologically segregated, which is maybe a good thing (depending on who you ask).

I have become a much more spiritually and emotionally mature person. God has graciously sanctified me by his Holy Spirit. Life goes on.

This past fall, I was given a new responsibility that has drastically affected the way I interact online in general, but especially on the Christian Social Internet.

You Just Don’t Know the Whole Story

This is where this post gets a bit dicey because I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say here, so I’ll say enough to make my point and not say more than I should.

I manage the @LifeWay social media handles. When you tweet @LifeWay or engage with the @LifeWay Facebook page, that’s my desk. That’s my work. That’s me.

I took the keys for the @LifeWay social media handles this past October when a colleague took a job at a different company. I haven’t crashed the car yet, despite the spotty driving record we just reviewed.

A lot has happened at LifeWay since last fall, if you aren’t aware. Namely, we just announced a shift in focus toward a more “dynamic digital strategy” which will result in the closure of some of our LifeWay Christian Store locations.

Between that and some changes in leadership, it’s been an active first few months to be running the @LifeWay social media handles.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of managing the @LifeWay social media handles, particularly the Twitter handle, has been observing the wide variety of negative feedback we get about an assortment of issues. But internet hate is the way of the road these days, even (perhaps especially) on the Christian Social Internet.

But the most striking feedback I’ve seen is the comments on various news articles about the “erosion” of our brick-and-mortar stores and the shift we’re making toward a more “dynamic digital strategy.”

Everyone has an idea about why the erosion of retail has happened. But that’s beside the point. Here’s the point:

Watching all of the reaction around LifeWay’s recent announcement humbled me.

Seeing dozens of commenters incorrectly theorize why LifeWay brick-and-mortar stores have struggled made me realize how little I know about the things I have criticized in the past. For example:

Something silly I like to criticize is ESPN’s botching of the Monday Night Football program. They’ve had the program for years and I’ve always thought it’s terrible, as have most people on Twitter, it seems. I think they try too hard. Their commentators are too over the top. They Disney-fy it too much.

But what do I know? With what authority am I able criticize ESPN’s (mis)handling of Monday Night Football?

Am I a television programming expert? Do I know what makes a good football commentator? Do I have any right to call out one of the largest entertainment companies in the world on how they handle a program?

The answer is “No” to all of the above.

So often I don’t know the whole story, and I act like I do.

It didn’t click with me how foolish I am to do something like that until I saw all of the errant criticisms of the erosion of LifeWay retail stores. I was humbled and I recognized my own foolishness.

It’s really transformed how I interact with social media.

On Deleting Apps and Logging Off

I haven’t left any social media platforms entirely like some of my friends have, but I have dramatically changed how I interact with them.

I deleted the Facebook suite of apps off my phone long ago, except the Pages app, which I need for work.

I deleted the Twitter app from my phone, but still access it on my web browser from time to time. The more annoying interface of the web browser makes me use it less often.

I go back and forth between being logged into my personal Instagram account. I have to have access to the LifeWay Instagram at all times, though, so I can’t delete the app.

I created an anonymous Twitter account for lurking when I’m working so that I am not tempted to tweet dumb stuff from my personal Twitter account when it comes to mind during the day (because I’m on Twitter all day for work stuff).

I stopped following anything on Twitter that made me mad and exclusively use it as a platform to engage with people and things I enjoy: friends or professional contacts, funny comedy accounts, or various accounts in my areas of interest (sports, gaming, social media culture).

It’s super difficult to “leave” social media when it’s your everyday job and when you genuinely enjoy so many bright parts of it like I do. But it is helpful to deploy guardrails that can assist in a pursuit of sanctification and wisdom.

My relationship with social media and the Christian Social Internet has matured a lot in the six years I’ve been creating content for a living. I went from needlessly entering Twitter fights I had no business entering to managing the corporate accounts of one of the largest Christian resource providers in the world. God has done a work, amen?

But he’s not done working, either. Which is why I’ve taken many steps to protect against any foolishness that still seeps out of my fingers from time to time.

The Lord has taught me the merit of shutting my virtual mouth more often than I have in the past.

My friend Michael Kelley wrote in a blog post that went live on LifeWay Voices today:

We have an increased opportunity to run our mouths more than any other generation.

That’s because we can effectively run our mouths not only with our actual mouths, but with our devices as well. We have at our fingertips the ability to broadcast our deepest thoughts, most profound opinions, and hottest takes more easily than ever before. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why we are such a loud people – it’s because we have the opportunity to be loud.

You know the feeling as well as I do. There is someone who brings something to us – it’s an accusation, it’s a criticism, it’s a rebuke – it’s a whatever. Someone does something or says something or insinuates something and we, in return, feel a compulsion inside of us. It’s a burning down deep in our guts. We. Must. Respond. And usually when that response comes, it’s part and parcel with what has just been dealt to us. If it was anger, we respond in anger. If criticism, we respond with criticism of our own. If accusation, we respond with defensiveness. Whatever the case, we respond.

But into the throng of noise steps the command from James – the command to listen. Not tweet. Not broadcast. Not Facebook Live. But listen.

Amen. Let’s run our mouths less and listen more.

When we’re tempted to take up arms in virtual battles over frivolous issues, let’s remember that the war’s already been won.

Looking Back to 2017 and Ahead to 2018

Hey there, everyone! It’s been a long time since I’ve published something on this blog. I’ve drafted a few pieces in the last few months, but I didn’t like any of them enough to publish them for everyone to read.

So here we are in 2018. Just a couple of days in and a few weeks away from writing the right date on stuff.

The purpose of this blog post is to look back at what happened in my life in 2017 and ahead toward what is coming this year.

What Happened in 2017

We got a puppy. His name is Rizzo. He’s pretty great, but also super frustrating sometimes. He eats socks. Like whole.

I graduated from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with my M.Div. in May. It was good to graduate. Attending SEBTS was a great experience, but I am happy to have a bit more time to spend with friends, serve in the church, and read a bit more widely than I had time to do in the past.

Then, about a month after I graduated, I turned in my 30,000+ word book manuscript to my book publisher. Ministering to Millennials should be released in the first quarter of this year. We are working on the final edits and the cover art right now.

Beyond that, the summer was pretty uneventful. A highlight was definitely leading a summer Bible study with some of the students in our youth group. It was a lot of fun and I got a lot closer with the youth guys that I help lead at our church.

Spanning the entirety of 2017 is a little project called LifeWay Social.

Like most people who work in social media, I have done a lot of contract work on the side. Around the summer of 2016, I decided that when I finished seminary in the spring of 2017, I wanted to formalize the contract work into more of a side business.

Long story made short, that project turned into LifeWay Social and it became part of my job at LifeWay instead of a project on the side.

LifeWay Social was announced in July 2017 and signups opened in October 2017. So far, I have been really happy with how it has done and my hope is that 2018 will be a great first full calendar year for LifeWay Social.

The LifeWay Social project is the main reason I have not written here on this blog nearly as much as I used to. So much of my time is caught up in, basically, studying social media and coaching Christians on how to use it better. From October through December of 2017, I was working 10-12 hour days pretty regularly as we ramped up LifeWay Social and got it rolling.

After doing all of that, when I finally have some free time at the end of a day or on the weekend, the last thing I want to do is sit down in front of yet another WordPress screen and write more blog content.

So, if you’ve been sad that I haven’t been writing here, I apologize. But I know most of you don’t care, so let’s move on to looking ahead to what 2018 holds.

What Is Ahead in 2018

We are just a couple of days into 2018. I love the start of the New Year. There isn’t anything spiritually significant about going from December to January, but it is helpful to have a sort of mental reset, and the changing of the year does that for me.

Also, the last two weeks of December each year are about the only time I let myself be lazy as a creator for any significant period of time. I try to write nothing, post little, and just relax the last two weeks of December each year.

By the time New Year’s Day rolls around, I am chomping at the bit to get back to work and get back to writing blog posts or articles for the various outlets I have the opportunity to serve.

Every even year since 2010, I try to read through the Bible in a year. I failed in 2016, but am picking it up again this year. I tend to like reading small chunks of Scripture and diving deeply into them, so read-the-Bible-in-a-year plans are a bit out of my comfort zone, but I think it’s a good practice and I have always enjoyed it in the past.

At a professional level, I hope I learn more in 2018 than I have in any year previously. I hope I become a better co-worker and a better coach. I learned a ton about social media and content creation in 2017, and I hope I learn as much in 2018. I want LifeWay Social to continue to grow and be a valuable resource for Christians trying to use social media well.

But beyond that, I hope 2018 provides me more opportunities to create content and put into practice what I have been learning the last year.

Through LifeWay Social and perhaps some other outlets, I am hoping to create more video content than I have in the past. I detest being on video. It makes me very uncomfortable because I lack self-confidence and I don’t like watching myself. But, it’s a growing area of content creation and I think I can be good at it if I work hard.

On a personal level, I want to be more involved in the lives of the students I have the opportunity to lead at our church and I want to be a more selfless husband for my wife. I want 2018 to be the year Susie and I look back on as the year we opened our home up to more people than we ever had before.

Anyway, that’s a bit of an update from me on the last year. I hope this site is still helpful for any of you who may read this.

Here we find ourselves, in the first week of 2018.

What does it hold? Who knows?

The turn of the year provides us with a mental reset and it should remind us that, while the year on the calendar may change, the Lord doesn’t. The faithfulness he has shown throughout our lives will remain in 2018, regardless of how unfaithful we may be.

-Chris