By: R. Loren Sandford
Held captive to what they do, burnout victims often sacrifice self and health well beyond any valid call of God. I recall thinking—and rightly so—that my life and faith should be a model for others. Late in the burnout years, I found myself questioning: “But where is my joy? Would I invite others into this pain I feel? Looking at the quality of my life, why would anyone want to join me in my faith?”
At that point, my recovery from burnout and the rediscovery of joy became issues of personal integrity. How could I preach the peace of God when I had so little of it myself?
#1: Break the Personal Obligation Pattern
Most burnout victims in ministry or in other forms of leadership feel personally obligated to everyone in their care. This can be motivated by fear of not being liked for saying no once in a while. Or victims may genuinely believe that without their direct involvement, terrible things will happen in the lives of those who look to them for leadership.
Those afflicted by the personal obligation pattern have an overblown sense of their own responsibility and too little faith in Jesus’ ability to take care of people and situations. They may own the failures of others in their sphere of influence and therefore cannot risk allowing them to fail. In short, they cannot withdraw from perceived obligations often enough or long enough to remain healthy.
I began to learn to say no when I began to experience such anger with the escalating demands of selfishly “sick” people in the church I pastored, and when I became so frustrated with my own condition, that extreme discomfort drove me to action. After all these years, I remain a bit dysfunctional in this area, but I work at overcoming it.
#2: Break the Self-Sacrifice Pattern
I make self-sacrifice a major cornerstone of my preaching. I believe that a focus on self leads directly to depression and a shipwreck of a life. On the other hand, some forms of self-sacrifice and our motivations for doing them produce anything but life. These must be identified, confronted and rooted out before real health can be restored.
For example, workaholism—my family suffers from this inherited disease. My minister father has it. My brothers and sisters have it. I have it. It manifests something like this: “If I’m not working to exhaustion, I’m not working hard enough.”
Fun wastes precious ministry time. Time for fun, therefore, means time for guilt. Exercise cuts into time for work. More guilt. Then guilt for not exercising. Even sleep distracts from the essential task of ministering, working and producing. Forget hobbies. Hobbies are for the uncommitted who have time for such trivial pursuits.
The old adage says, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Playtime can be holy time. A good laugh serves at least as well as 20 minutes in prayer for release of tension and refreshment to the soul: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones” (Prov. 17:22, NASB). Take time for things you enjoy, and reject the guilt.
Then there is the issue of exercise. At first, I felt guilty for spending so much time on something unrelated to my work, but I soon learned that the gym was a place where I could escape talking shop and settling everyone’s deep life problems. As an added benefit, I got to rub elbows with the real world, not just the members of the church locked up in the “Christian ghetto.”
Exercise helps reestablish an overall sense of wellbeing, and helps renew the body’s ability to withstand emotional stress and physical disease. Do not con yourself into thinking you are too far gone or too tired to do this. Exercise is too important to your recovery for you to permit this kind of self-deception. There will be no full and permanent recovery without physical exercise of some kind. God intended us to cultivate a healthy balance between body and spirit.
#3: Break the Isolation Pattern
The pastor or anointed lay leader must seek out those called to be close to and safe for him. Gather a team of trustworthy people and utilize their gifts, both in ministry to the flock and for your own support. Ask God to reveal these people to you and then intentionally draw them to yourself.
Some of you have been so badly burned and betrayed by trusted confidants and team members that relationships like this may seem too difficult—too much risk. It seemed this way to me at one time because I, too, had been deeply scarred by people I loved and trusted. In truth, I had chosen the wrong people and had yet to learn how to identify the faithful and true. But even through the bad choices I learned wisdom.
#4: Break the Self-Abuse Pattern
Common manifestations of this include destructive patterns of diet and rest. Your eating habits have probably been atrocious, marked by irregular meal times and junk food eaten on the run. When given the opportunity for a really good meal, you eat too hurriedly. You overeat. You under eat.
Most pastors and key leaders in any walk of life regularly violate the Sabbath. God designed us to function best when we take one day in seven to stop, worship God and do restful things that we enjoy. We pay a high price for violating this natural law, not so much as an expression of the wrath of God as in reaping the consequences of arguing with reality.
Are you a pastor? Do not expect to accomplish a Sabbath rest on Sunday, since Sunday constitutes the biggest workday of the week. Choose another day and then leave the phone off the hook. Not a bad plan for business owners and managers as well!
Try delegating the management of your schedule to someone you trust. My secretary, for instance, does a much better job than I do of telling people that I have no spots open for three weeks. I feel obligated to make room for them, no matter what the cost to myself. She does not. Let trusted others create windows of rest in your busy schedule. In the long run, this can spell the difference between sanity and breakdown.
Begin breaking patterns by confessing your helplessness, and then call upon the Lord to rescue you. It is a time-honored cry, proven to bear fruit.
The above article is adapted from Renewal for the Wounded Warrior: A Burnout Survival Guide for Believers by R. Loren Sandford, copyright 2010. Published by Chosen, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by permission. All rights reserved. This content may not be copied or redistributed in any form.