If you think you might suffer from Christian burnout I hope you’ll enjoy this final post in this series on choosing rest. Check out the first three posts: 1. Feeling Overwhelmed? Choose Rest for a More Peaceful Life, 2. Always Tired? How To Choose Rest for Your Body and 3. Mommy Brain Fix: How To Choose Rest for Your Heart and Mind
If you want to learn more about how to better implement self-care and rest practices in your life be sure to sign up for the Choose Rest Challenge!
As of last week, I hadn’t been to Sunday worship in about a month.
That’s weird for me because, with perhaps the exception of when my children were born, I have been quite the dedicated attendee for all of my Christian life.
I had the excuses: being out of town and sickness on consecutive weeks. And while I was otherwise doing well spiritually (I mean I hadn’t committed any crimes or anything), I nonetheless felt a little…off.
Excited to return to the fold after my absence, my heart sank when I realized I was on rotation to teach in children’s ministry during the service. I can listen to the sermons online, but to be perfectly honest, hanging with kids is not my favorite way to spend Sunday mornings, considering I am herding children all the live long day every other day of the week.
I couldn’t get out of this commitment, but I knew that I desperately needed spiritual food. So I had to assess: how could I continue to give, without falling into the trap of Christian burnout?
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Understanding Christian Burnout
Let’s just call a spade a spade, okay? Christian burnout happens when you give and give and give for the spiritual good of others but you’re bone dry yourself. I’ve been there. A lot.
What’s tricky about it is that it looks like you’re doing well. You’re serving in your church; you’re practically laying down your life for your family; you’re reaching outward and helping people. You could even be reading your Bible dutifully and be doing everything “right.”
But inside, you’re a bomb waiting to go off. All it takes is for your child to speak in that whiny voice or your husband to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, and you snap in a quite ugly, non-Christ-like way.
How do we navigate these tricky waters: doing the work we know we’re called to, without wearing ourselves down? For me, a key answer to this question is rest.
How To Practice Spiritual Rest
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me (John 15:4, NIV).
The word Sabbath means a deep rest, a deep peace. It’s a near synonym for shalom—a state of wholeness and flourishing in every dimension of life. When Jesus says, ‘I am the Lord of the Sabbath,” Jesus means that he is the Sabbath. He is the source of the deep rest we need. He has come to completely change the way we rest. The one-day-a-week rest we take is just a taste of the deep divine rest we need, and Jesus is its source (Jesus the King by Timothy Keller, p. 44).
I like to make things complicated, but it’s really quite simple. Jesus. The beginning and the end. The source, the vine.
It’s hard to wrap my head around how this works, but I know if I am seeking Jesus, I’m pointed in the right direction. When I remain, or abide, with him, as he commands that we do in John 15, he works through me.
So what does this look like?
Unfortunately I can’t provide a formulaic way to rest or a spiritual checklist that will answer that question. Resting in Christ is primarily about relationship, which is full of nuance. But I can offer you some guidelines and principles that have helped me tremendously, and you can apply them to your own situation.
- Keeping the Sabbath: this concept has been all but foreign to me until recently. I liked the concept, but I just didn’t see how it would work practically.
But then I thought I’d do a little experiment. The need to rest was practically screaming at me from the scriptures, so…why not try it? Starting every Saturday evening and ending Sunday evening, I keep a personal Sabbath. I do not check email or social media. I don’t do major housework, errands or work. As much as possible I try to only say yes to social commitments that are relationship-building, like Sunday dinner with some of our extended family or a casual Bible study with close friends in the afternoon.
I have found this simple practice to be the most powerful in helping me feel refreshed and Christ-centered as I start my week.
- Connecting with Christ: speaking with being Christ-centered, it takes intention. Taking communion, prayer, worship and digging into my Bible is an essential piece of my Sunday, even when I’m “serving” in children’s ministry or elsewhere. Focusing my heart and soul on the cross is not something I strive to do just weekly, but continuously.
When I create space in my life for this kind of connection, I am much more likely to pray deeply, to examine my heart and to surrender my anxieties, as I discussed in Part 3.
- Community: this one can be tough for me because I am indeed an introvert and, as I’ve indicated, I can burn out. But I need people, and they need me. Christ is in the church, and therefore to be connected to him, we must be connected with each other.
True community for me goes well beyond saying hello in fellowship on Sunday. This week I’ve prayed with my friends and laughed and cried over coffee and lamented our weaknesses while marveling at the way God works. Without these kinds of connections, I’m disconnected from the vine.
As with every aspect of rest I’ve explored in this series, spiritual rest is a choice.
Last Sunday I fulfilled my commitment to teach the kids…but I didn’t suffer from Christian burnout. That’s because I deliberately started my Sabbath on Saturday night as I sat down for dinner with my husband. I opened my morning in prayer and took communion thankfully before teaching the kids. I enjoyed my time with then and then enjoyed lunch with my family and a friend. And then I relaxed…entrusting God with my never-ending to-do list, abiding in him, and enjoying a piece of his creation (which on this particular day was a good book).
By the time Sunday evening rolled around, I was ready to take my week by the horns and give it my heart.
That wraps up our series on rest, my friends! If you want to learn more about how to live a more restful life, be sure to sign up for the Choose Rest Challenge.
Do you ever suffer from Christian burnout? What spiritual rest practices do you think can prevent it?