“I just feel burned out.”
Ever hear those words? Say those words? Of course you have because burnout happens. When we do something for years on end or do something out of duty or do something we no longer care about, we feel resentment. And it’s heavy. And it’s real. We lack the energy for it. We find no joy in it. Instead of fizzing it festers. Last Sunday’s Gospel text from Luke featured Martha complaining to Jesus about doing all the work in the kitchen while her sister Mary sat at his feet. She was stewing in her juices because she lacked a key ingredient for what she was doing… and for whom she was doing it: love! Her stew probably only got thicker when Jesus commented that she was “anxious and distracted”!
But we are, aren’t we? Anxious about our obligations, distracted by too many commitments, fearful about failing, splintered in our loyalties… at times feeling burned out, sometimes feeling burned up, and at other times just feeling burned. But always feeling weighed down, put upon, joyless. Church life breeds burnout. Congregations rely on volunteers to do many things. And churches seldom function well without teamwork, partnership, accountability… and we know well that there’s tremendous potential for strife and stress when two or three are gathered!
Presbyterian minister and author Lynne Baab in her book Beating Burnout in Congregations (Alban Institute, 2003) writes, “Truly, congregations are an odd blend. We are called to accomplish tasks: provide worship services, care for our children and youth and others with special needs, and reach out into our communities. We are called to be an oasis of spiritual health for our members in the midst of their demanding lifestyles. We are called to be different from our culture and to serve within it. In order for congregations to be healthy, all of these things have to be held in tension and somehow embraced all at once. Congregations become systems that promote burnout when they focus too heavily on tasks and forget the bigger purpose… We are in danger of forgetting who we are, called by God to live and serve in communities of joy, called to honor God with worshipful work.” (page 53).
So what do you think? Are you are living and serving in a community of joy? The Apostle Paul clearly believes that being connected to Christ creates outrageous, irrepressible joy! He offers these words in one of his letters, “Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic – be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord!” (Romans 12:11). Feel that? If not, let’s heed Jesus’ words to Martha about anxiety and distraction… spiritual self-care is not something to put on a back burner!