The Answer to Burnout: Immersion in Jesus

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I was driving home from church when I passed Panera and had to fight with myself about pulling in and applying for a job. It was so appealing to think of a job without homework and messy people. I wanted a life without so many issues and I figured selling bagels sounded pretty simple.  I was done.

My physical body was fine but my soul was done.  I had neglected, ignored, and dredged the bottom of the cup and now it felt like nothing was left. But, if I’m honest, it was more a desire to run away. My heart was heavy from unresolved conflict, expectations, and a lack of boundaries in ministry.

[tweetthis]Carrying around a heavy heart is exhausting. Have you been there?[/tweetthis]

Carrying around a heavy heart is exhausting.  Have you been there?  Have you noticed that when we’re tired we make not-so-great decisions? We are more critical, and we can begin to blame others for what is really our own stuff?   It isn’t moral failure or failing ministry; it’s exhaustion. I didn’t want to truly face what I needed, which was a good look at myself with the eyes of Jesus and a willingness to do whatever he asked.  So, I sat down with leadership and said exactly that – my soul is tired.  I need extended rest with Jesus with no agenda and no distraction…and they said yes.

That was 6 years ago, and I have learned some big lessons that I can honestly say have kept me from finding myself in that place again.  Taking care of our souls is key to doing healthy ministry.  Yet, so often in the care of the souls of others we neglect ourselves. When was the last time you observed a Sabbath day in your week?  Every week?  In fact, I would bet that many of you feel guilty when you take time for yourself.

I’ve read so many devotionals and articles on burnout in ministry.  They all list the same basic reasons and offer nice ideas about how to avoid the pitfalls of burnout.  They are good and true, yet I have discovered that burnout isn’t about the students we love or the churches we serve. It’s about the care of our hearts.

We can learn about our personalities and how we best rejuvenate.  We can learn how to deal with conflict and expectations.  We can develop leadership skills and create boundaries.  These are all really good – but – it all boils down to Jesus.  Not in the Sunday school answer way that is always Jesus, but in the immersed, focused, healing intimate way that Jesus works.

Jesus knew we’d become weary. He said, “Come all who are weary and I will give you rest”.   Matt. 11:28  James reminds us, “Come close to God, and God will come close to you.”  James 4:8   Yet, when we get tired our selfishness kicks in.  Unhealthy leaders can breed unhealthy leaders.  Unhealthy leaders will eventually poison ministry.  When we are tired we can emotionally blow up, wreak havoc, make terrible choices and we can also blame, point, gossip, take sides, etc.  If your soul is tired – then listen to the one who says Come to me.

It’s not the pastor’s fault, your spouse’s or kids’ fault, your students’ fault.  They may play a role in why you’re feeling burned out or tired, but how you walk in it and the refreshment is on you.

Those few simple days in a quiet cabin of a friend in the cold of February were some of the most profound, healing, intimate times with God that I’d ever had to that point. I was just too tired to have walls.  I asked Him hard questions, worshipped, prayed, journaled, listened, slept and slept, read a book, and read Scripture. I just hung out with Jesus.  He meant it when he said, come to me and I’ll give you rest.  It’s in him that true rest is found.

As I spent time with Jesus he opened my heart, renewed a love for ministry, gave me the courage to apologize, and challenged me to love me.  It’s in Him that all these are found.  We know this, we are youth workers, we teach about Jesus continually –  but I found that like so many others I had fallen into the “I can do this” mode without the lean-on-Jesus that is needed.

The answer to burnout, or soul exhaustion, is renewed, focused, immersion in Jesus.  As we draw near the forgiveness is possible, healing happens, the courage comes, the joy returns, and the peace fills.  That is the best place to do ministry from, a full heart.

As we come to the end of the ministry year, how’s your heart?  Is your soul tired?

He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name…
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
   My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
   all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord

   forever.  Ps. 23:2-3, & 5-6

Jesus went away alone to pray. Jesus took days off.  Jesus worshipped.  Jesus hung out with his friends.  This summer take some time to hang with Jesus.  Create some space for God to speak.

You have permission.

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Betsy has worked with students for over 24 years and has served at Cornerstone Church in Caledonia, MI for nineteen of those years. Currently, Betsy is the Director of Family Ministry while still holding the high school ministry hat. Betsy also teaches women’s ministry at Grace Bible College as an adjunct professor. Betsy has been married for 27 years with a son in college and daughter in high school. In her free time, she enjoys reading, laughing with her family, and date nights!

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