Yesterday on the blog I wrote about how I had spent much of this winter suffering from spiritual and emotional burnout, and that I had a hunch I wasn’t alone. Judging from your comments and emails, it turns out my instinct was correct- a lot of Christians are feeling burned out these days. As part of my own process in sorting out how I got to such a dark place, and from the wonderful insight and advice from many of my peers, I was able to identify some behaviors that I absolutely, positively, needed a break from– because that was the source of my burnout.
As I processed this further, I came to realize that even Jesus himself was aware of the potential for spiritual burnout, and made a practice of taking steps to prevent it. Jesus was on a mission to change the world, and the key avenue he chose to do it was through pouring his heart and soul into a small group of 12 friends while simultaneously kicking up against the walls of the dominant power structures of his day. I can only imagine that this led to moments of fatigue and discouragement, since scripture affirmed that Jesus was tempted in all the same ways that we are tempted. So what did Jesus do to avoid spiritual burnout?
Well, it seems that Jesus had built into his life a habit of getting away from whatever things existed in his life that could have led to spiritual burnout. In the book of Luke we find a very important statement:
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray.” (5:16)
I personally really like the rendering of the International Standard Version of this verse, which words it: “However, he (Jesus) continued his habit of retiring to deserted places and praying.”
While there is a host of good stuff one could glean from this verse (such as the aspect of prayer which is not covered by this post), what I appreciate the most is that Jesus knew when he needed to take a break from some things. And, if even Jesus– the Son of God– had to take a break from life-draining things, why would we buy the lie that we can chug along indefinitely without taking a break ourselves?
While I can only guess what sorts of things Jesus needed to take a break from, I think I have a much better grasp of some things that led to my own spiritual burnout, and perhaps did yours as well. So, here is a tangible list of things that I think we need to take scheduled breaks from to help avoid another bout (or come out of your current state) of spiritual burnout:
1. Things that make you angry.
Speaking of money, the Bible says that it makes a good slave but not a very good master. I think the same thing could be said of anger– when it consumes us it masters us, and it makes a horrible master. If there’s a certain topic or issue that is constantly making you angry, take a break from it– in our era of outrage and culture wars it is likely that there will never be a shortage of things to piss you off… so just take a break from the things that fuel your anger.
2. Situations, roles, or people that/who only drain but never replenish you.
Your emotional tank isn’t any different than a bank account– there is a limit as to how much you can spend before things go really bad. Remember: Jesus is the savior of the world, you are not. Yes, let us invest in changing the world and building the Kingdom- but if even our king himself takes a break and steps away for quiet moments where no one is draining him, why would we think we should live differently?
3. Things that worry you.
Jesus warned us that not a single person has added a minute to their life by worrying- but yet we do it anyway (I myself am especially good at this). One way to address it is by a more holistic approach to sabbath keeping: for myself, I’ve been trying to practice “no work, no commerce, and no worries” on the day I practice sabbath keeping. What’s the thing that worries you most? Set aside one day a week where you purposely do nothing about it and do your best to avoid thinking about it.
4. Social media/the comment section on some blogs.
Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with some great readers- but this isn’t the case everywhere on the internet. The comment section in many places can be one of the most toxic environments on planet earth. If there’s a certain place on the internet (or a certain person on the internet) where reading and engaging the comment section is making you question the future of humanity– take a break and don’t go to that particular blog or comment section. Or, you can even use the “unfollow” option to remove toxic people from your FB newsfeed without the more obvious gesture of unfriending them.
5. Being in-doors.
When Jesus withdrew to take some space, he did it outside. I think far too many of us are cooped up in cubicles and need time in nature like Jesus did– plus, there are tremendous health benefits to exercise, and even some vitamins you can only get through sun exposure outside. For me, I realized that I started to turn the corner as spring hit and we started taking the dog for walks by the lake. Whether you live in the country or in the city- find a way to get outside, go to a park, or even just go for a short daily walk around the block– but get outside and take in some fresh air, because that’s one of the things Jesus did.
I think in some ways seasons of spiritual burnout is inevitable, but I think there are some concrete things we can do both to avoid it, and to pull out of it. These five things were crucial to helping me begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
What about you? What frequent practices have you found to be helpful to your emotional and spiritual health?