Many good men and women are emotionally, physically, and spiritually “fried.” Exhausted and facing chronic fatigue, they find themselves in the Southwest airlines commercial—wanting to get away. And fast!
Here are seven signs of burnout.
1) Inner restlessness with an underlying sense of anxiety which leads to a defensive, angry spirit
2) Deep emotional weariness leading to obsessive or scattered thoughts
3) The waning of relational intimacy and a growing fantasy world (especially as it relates to our sexuality)
4) Numbness of soul so that people become tedious to us and we haven’t the internal energy to give attention to their deepest needs
5) Feelings of boredom, melancholy, and depression in response to a growing hopelessness
6) We pretend … we live more into our image than our true sense of identity with God
7) Our spiritual practices are at best random and replaced by life’s demands so that our spiritual life has a serious lack of enthusiasm and love for Christ
Why is it that we find ourselves burned out? Why the exhaustion and fatigue which leaves our souls vulnerable? Sometimes it is because of factors outside us which seem beyond our control (e.g. a severe illness in the family; overwhelming financial pressure because of the loss of a job). But sometimes our souls are at risk because of what is happening within us. Simply put, we become desperately tired because our compulsion to do more leaves little time and energy to nurture our souls.
Why do our compulsions exhaust us? The core problem which drives our compulsions is our struggle to deal with three exaggerated emotions—fear, shame, and guilt.
Fear – We fear we won’t measure up. We fear we are not competent enough. We fear losing face. We fear being compared to someone else. We fear we will miss out on something good and important. We fear we won’t be able to maintain the success we have enjoyed. We fear our kids won’t turn out the way we hoped. And whatever our fear is, it becomes exaggerated to the point of fueling our compulsions to do more and more. Eventually, we find ourselves tired to the bone.
Shame – We live holding deep within us that we are not quite adequate. Something deep within us is defective. We believe God has accepted us in Christ. We embrace a righteousness that comes by faith. We believe it is all about grace, but deep within us is an inordinate level of shame—that we don’t have what it takes. So we are driven by our compulsion to prove to ourselves we are really o.k.
Guilt – We have a belief system that speaks to our guilt. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. But we still act as if enough is never enough. We are addicted to thinking, and feeling that we have to do more. The compulsion driving us is the demanding voice of false guilt. The truth is the demands of life never end. There is always more to do and a holy reason for doing more. However, exaggerated guilt means we cannot rest in what we have done even if it was enough.
Whatever else you’re doing, your state of soul matters more. In other words, the most important thing you bring to life is your transformed and transforming presence. What you are doing is not as important as who you are and who you are becoming.
If you resonated with more than three signs of burnout you may consider slowing down enough to reflect on how you got there. The compulsions which have left you exhausted are fueled by exaggerated fear, shame, and guilt. Ask God to give you an awareness of soul which allows you to see what is happening deep within.
In Part 2 in the series on burnout we will offer a couple of suggestions for renewal.