Six months after I got married, my wife and I moved to Southern California. For me, it was a brand new place with many great opportunities. Being in my early twenties, I naturally thought I could take over the world. Three months after settling in to sunny SoCal, I started seminary. At the same time, I started serving in a brand new church. At the same time, I got a job in a brand new environment. This all happened before my wife and I celebrated our first year anniversary.
Here are a few other items that we can add to the mix: Three days a week, I made the 180 mile round trip to attend classes. I also took a summer greek class that took four months and crammed it into four weeks. I was driving upwards of two hundred miles prior to 9 am when I had to be at work. All the while learning to be a husband to my wife and assimilating to my new environment.
Needless to say, I was spiraling towards a burn-out and did not even know it. My plate of responsibilities was full and there was no breathing room. Then the inevitable happened. One evening after I attended a conference, upon getting in to my car — I noticed a slight discomfort in my throat. I had no idea what it was. I thought I would just shake it off. Maybe some cough drops would help. I drove home, entered the premises and expired for the night.
When I woke up in the morning, I opened my mouth to say something but no words would come out. My throat was swollen, my glands were inflamed and my body temperature was boiling. After a visit to the doctor, the diagnosis was definitive: Laryngitis. I was out of commission for two full weeks.
God was good to me even during this difficult time. His grace was sufficient. I was back in business after my fourteen day, self-imposed hiatus. In addition to physical suffering, here are three other areas that will suffer — when you reach a burn-out stage in your life. I write this in hopes that you will avoid this and that I will take heed to my very own advice:
1. Relationships. This applies to your spouse, you siblings, your friends or your folks. Because you are so busy approaching burn-out status — you have no time to invest in the primary relationships in your life. Quality time is few and far between. The self-imposed demands prompt you to become their slave rather than a supplement to your daily life.
2. Influence. Jesus said that a disciple is not above his teacher (Lk. 6:40). The ultimate goal of a disciple is to be like his master. Provided that his master or leader or mentor is one that is worthy of being emulated. In every organization, leaders will breed followers that are mirror images of who they are. So if you are in a perpetual burn-out zone, so too will be the people you are attempting to lead. The problem is deeper than this. Not only is the individual affected. Collateral damage extends to their family and their circle of friends. Because you demand of yourself so much, so to will your adherents. It is a catastrophic chain reaction. As leaders, we need to understand that our unbridled and unprioritized lifestyle can have a severely negative impact upon scores of people. It is not a mere coincidence that James, our Lord’s brother warns us that not many of us should become teachers — because upon them — there is a stricter judgment (Js. 3:1). If we are pushing 70+ hour work weeks, taking on much more than we are equipped to handle and arrogantly refusing to say NO — the people who look to us for leadership and discipleship will think this is a normality rather than a blatant fallacy. Maybe your stamina and energy fueled by Red Bull can outlast your peers. But the problem is that not everyone is wired this way. So because you set the standard, make sure it is not insurmountable by the people who trust your leadership.
3. Effectiveness. When you are burned-out and bludgeoned by your never-ending to do list, productivity and quality become an elusive dream. This condition begins to rear its ugly head in all spheres of your life. Your spouse will notice your distracted state of being. Your friends will wonder why you continue declining their invitation to go out for dinner. Your family will experience conversations, hurried and superficial in character. Worst of all, your relationship with Jesus will be put on the back-burner. It will only be called up again once the next life-threatening disaster hits. Some people may think that working longer makes for more effective work. The issue is that this is almost never the case. Working smart and working hard are entirely different wavelengths at which we can function. We work well and create well when we are most rested. This is why we must not buy into the myth that more time will equal better work.
The above three items suffer because we choose human-empowered performance instead of grace-fueled obedience.
On the cross, Jesus said that “it is finished” (Jn. 19:30).
We must intentionally function out of the rest Jesus has graciously and sacrificially provided for us.
Jesus wants you and I to read these words and have them penetrate the deepest part of our heart:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30).
In my next post, I want to provide a few practical suggestions for how we can avoid excessive collateral damage and eliminate the need to enter the burn-out zone.
Question: What other areas in your life suffer when your responsibilities outweigh your capabilities?