Have you ever experienced burnout? Burnout is defined as the feeling one gets when a person has done something so long he or she has lost motivation. Maybe you’ve felt this way about your job before. You’ve done the same job for numerous years and you just don’t feel motivated to improve, much less even go to work. Perhaps you’ve felt this way in your parenting, because the good Lord knows how many times as a parent we say the same thing over and over and repeat the same chores over and over. Have you felt this way in your marriage? You’ve been married to the same person for years and have the same routines and conversations every day and you just don’t feel much toward your spouse. Have you ever felt this way in your ministry work? You’ve lead a life group, taught Bible studies, volunteered with different organizations, done your best to make disciples, only to wake morning after morning feeling less motivated to continue this work? I’ve experienced seasons like this and, to be honest, have felt that sense of burnout come over me lately. I’ve been wrestling with this question: If I’m doing the Lord's work, why do I feel unmotivated? I mean I love my children, but why do I struggle at times to want to spend time with them? And I deeply love my wife, but why do I so many times find myself frustrated and unnecessarily creating arguments? As I’ve wrestled with these questions, I have discovered some useful truths from scripture that are helping me move beyond this feeling.
CASE STUDY: MARY AND MARTHA
In Luke 10:38-42, we are told a story about Jesus visiting the home of Mary and Martha, two sisters who obviously care deeply about Jesus. As the story goes, Jesus and His disciples were traveling and as they came to a certain village, and Martha opened up her home in order to care for Jesus and His disciples. As Jesus was talking and teaching, Mary was sitting at His feet listening to His words. While this is going on, Martha is DISTRACTED (hold on to that word) making preparations for the guests and becomes frustrated. She approaches Jesus and questions whether He cares about her hard work and asks Him to reprimand her sister for her apparent laziness. The story concludes with Jesus saying, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Now from first read, if you are like me, you empathize with Martha...after all, you are working hard making sure things go well for Jesus and His disciples. Martha wants to make sure she takes care of Jesus and gives Him her best, while her sister sits at Jesus’ feet and doesn’t do any work. To make matters worse, Jesus commends Mary rather than Martha! However, there is an important word used in this story, and it's the word DISTRACTED. In verse 40, Luke writes that Martha was distracted by all the preparations. What was she being distracted from? The answer of course is Jesus Himself! She was DOING many things for him but she wasn’t BEING with him.
BURNOUT- JUST A SYMPTOM
What caused Mary to become frustrated? What contributed to her burnout? She was working hard and feeling no reward. However, something I’ve come to realize is that burnout is not the disease wreaking havoc but just a symptom. Much like an actual sickness, treating the symptoms may ease the pain or temper conditions but it won’t rid the body of the actual illness. Instead, the actual illness must be treated and thereby the symptoms will diminish. So what could cause the symptom of burnout? There might be many answers, but for me it seems the cause of burnout is overworking, or stated differently, putting work first and relationships second.
THE REAL PROBLEM
So burnout is the symptom of being distracted by the work and missing out on the relationship. For me this makes sense. Why do I feel burnout in my ministry work? I’m focused on the work rather than the relationship. I want to make disciples, lead well, teach well, etc. These are all good things, but I have become distracted by the work and missing the point. Jesus doesn’t condemn Martha, He just merely points out she is busy, worried and distracted. He encourages her to be like Mary in the moment and just be with Him. Can this be true in more than our ministry work? What about our jobs, children and marriages? Am I just about the tasks at work, or should I take some time and get to know those I work with? Am I just about the routines with my children, or should I take some time and just sit with them and fight my urge to do something else? Do I only talk to my spouse about household chores and to-do items, or should I take a night out and just be with her?
WHAT’S THE REMEDY?
For me, focusing on the relationships first gives meaning to the work. Maybe then I’ll feel more motivated. Perhaps I just need to be a little more like Mary and fight my urge to always be Martha. I’m not saying stop working, I’m just saying approach it from a different angle. Just spend some time being in relationship with Christ first and then pursue His work.