Let's Talk About Burnout

Burnout is a sin

Let's Talk About Burnout
Photo by Verne Ho / Unsplash

Every now and then a topic comes up that strikes a nerve. This can happen in a personal quiet time, through a sermon at church, by a podcast, a YouTube video, or even a friend calling us out. Recently, a weekly video that our Phoenix Campus puts out struck a nerve of many and prompted more negativity than positivity. What was the controversial statement? Burnout is a sin. (You can check out the episode here: https://youtu.be/PGKEHKwQUew?si=GjqjlISf__fBYiDg)

I honestly didn’t think this would be such a controversial topic, we all know that “burnout” is not a good thing, but there seems to be an emotional reaction when it’s called out in our personal lives. Let’s examine this topic a little more and ask some important questions that can help us move in the right direction.

What is burnout? 

WebMD defines burnout in the most basic sense as “a form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling swamped. It happens when we experience too much emotional, physical, and mental fatigue for too long.”[1] 

The Bible doesn’t use the phrase burnout, but talks often about being weary and burdened and that it is not the path that God wants for us. Jesus expresses this so clearly in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus does not tell us to stay in our weariness, our burdens, our burnout, but He tells us to come to Him! Burnout is so destructive because it damages our emotional, physical, mental, and even spiritual lives. It is not the plan that God wills for our lives.

Why is burnout a sin?

This is where people get defensive because they feel like burnout is unavoidable. “I can’t control my emotions about this situation” “I can’t control the stress of my job/family/etc.” “I can’t control…”

This is true, we cannot control all those things, but we have a savior who can. When we hit burnout and become emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted then we are saying Jesus is not enough. He told us that HIS yoke is easy and HIS burden is light, the reason for that is because HE is doing all the lifting. He desires for us to run to Him instead of stressing over our situation.

The uneasy truth is burnout is a sin because if we are exhausted by our situations in life it means that we are not dependent on God and instead we have a pride complex that believes WE need to fix our issues and not God.

How do we recognize burnout? 

Like any mental or physical health issue, we need to diagnose the problem. Sadly with burnout, we usually do not recognize it until we are full-blown in the middle of it. When you burnout fully, it’s hitting rock bottom…no energy, no motivation, feelings of failure, coping with addictions, the list can go on and on.

But, like any good doctor strives for, how do we notice the signs and start to prevent it before it gets that bad? Carey Nieuwhof, Pastor and Leadership Guru, puts this beautifully “the definition of low-grade burnout: the functions of life continue, but the joy of life is gone.”

Maybe you haven’t hit rock bottom, but you are just plugging away in a monotonous path that seems to give you no joy whatsoever. Life isn’t always going to be a Disney movie filled with joy and there will be seasons of depression or anxiety, but when it starts to become the norm and not the exception then the warning signs need to sound in our life!

Nehemiah 8:10 affirms this, that we should “go and eat what is rich, drink what is sweet, and send portions to those who have nothing prepared, since today is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, because the joy of the Lord is your strength.” As followers of Jesus, we should have a joy that fills our lives and when we are marked more by sorrow, anxiety, and exhaustion rather than a joy and security in Jesus then we are not truly trusting He is in control.

How do we prevent burnout?

Ultimately, the most important question is how do we prevent burnout.

1.   Trust God is in control

We will get into some practical steps to take that could even work for someone who is far from God, the problem is I don’t believe those are sustainable long-term. As a Christian, avoiding burnout starts with recognizing and truly living out that God is in control. This is a pretty basic principle that is all over the Bible, but one that we often do a bad job of living out.

We sing songs, read scriptures, and pray prayers of how God has won the battles and the wars in our lives, but then as we go through our day-to-day we feel the stressors of everything choking out that hope.

But, we need to be reminded as Psalm 55:22 writes, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” God is in control and no matter how bad your situation is, He will see you through it.

2.   Forgive Yourself

I think this becomes a controversial topic because people feel like failures and when they feel like failures they feel guilty. They allow their feelings to become inescapable and then someone calling it a sin feels judgmental when it’s not our fault we are consumed by it.

The fact is that is true of all our sins. Romans 3:23 states, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” When a sin is exposed in our lives, we don’t have to be defensive of it, we just have to be willing to let God forgive it. Jesus died on the cross so our sins are no longer judged, but we can be free from them.

When we burnout, it absolutely is a sin of pride, of lack of dependence on God, of lack of faith that God is in control, the list can go on and on. BUT, Jesus forgave that sin so we don’t have to worry about it any longer, we can instead move forward in His grace. The problem is we see Jesus forgiving our sins, but we don’t always forgive those same sins. If your sin is forgiven by Jesus, it can be forgiven by you.

 3.   Build in Discipline

We will never keep a sustainable pace that avoids burnout if we don’t have discipline in our lives. Paul shared this truth in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

Paul knew he had to establish discipline in his life to maintain emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual health. What kind of disciplines do you have and what do you need to add? Are you reading your bible, praying consistently, exercising, having clear guidelines of when to check out of work, etc?

We will not magically have a balanced life, it takes personal discipline that flows out of a strict dependence and recognition of God.

Carey Nieuwhof sums up this topic so bluntly that “Burnout is not a badge of honor.” Our world complains about it while simultaneously seeming to celebrate such an unsustainable lifestyle. But, when we turn to our God we see that even though a burnout lifestyle is a sin, we serve a God that forgives those sins and has a better life in store for us. 

[1] https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/burnout-symptoms-signs