3 Key Lessons to Avoid Occupational Burnout.

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By Matt Fretwell

And after [Jesus] had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone ~ Matthew 14:23

1.Learning to Say No

For a person like me, to take a week-long vacation from everything—to put everything down—that’s difficult to do. Not in the sense that I am so needed that people cannot do without me—no, but in the aspect of my type A personality. I was warned in seminary  to be aware of burnout and learn to say, “no.” If you’re like me, your brain is always in motion, always thinking about the next goal, the next vision, the next move forward. My wife laughs, but inwardly I must drive her insane at home. I cannot sit down to enjoy a cup of coffee without first sweeping the floor—and once I do, I sit down and notice a cobweb, or think of something I forgot to do outside.

Are you like this? Do you need to learn how to say “no” to yourself? Maybe you’re a “Martha”—someone who just fills there time with busyness? My brother is like this too, but much more intense, except he’s a guy who works with power tools—building, moving, fixing—straight up guy things—never taking time to relax. So, when I took vacation time with my wife, I left behind the family with grandparents and the church with a trusted pastor, but I still worried—it was embedded within me. I had to learn to concentrate on times of refreshing because burnout is real, even to the most focused and best of us. There are times when people will ask you to do things and expect you do them. But, for your sanity and well-being, in the most respectful way, learn to say “no.”

If people respect you, they will understand that you are human. You cannot do everything. You will inevitably let someone down, it happens. As well, one aspect of learning to say no is in understanding that you cannot be a people pleaser. Those of us who tend to be goal oriented and driven, sometimes fall prey to pleasing people, instead of focusing on our goals. You will let people down—so, learn to live with your choices, do the best that can, and then learn to let go.

2. Learning to Let Go

Thankfully, and praise God, I have finished my third book, Sanctificagious, but now I’m pursuing my doctorate and busier than ever. Sometimes I am in awe, reflecting on God’s blessings. But sometimes, and especially on vacation, I cannot stop my mind from thinking, “I need to be doing more, maybe I should be doing x. (whatever “x” may be)” This is good—right? Wrong. This is my problem, and I know many of you are like this—you bring your “work” or “work mentality” on vacation with you.

As a pastor I utilize the Scriptures to give me guidance, so I’m basing my need for rest upon them. So, I read that there are times when Jesus went up on a mountain all by himself to pray and to be alone. I think, “Really? The Son of God needed time alone?” Yes. As the Son of God, He was fully God and fully man and shows us the imperative to take time to be alone—to let go of life.

We need to heed this advice, to get away and to be alone—to learn to let go. Maybe some of you are thinking, “I wish I could take a vacation—aren’t you the lucky one”? Learning to let go isn’t necessarily about vacations, as much as it is about recognizing that burnout is entering the doorway of your life.

I am a very upbeat guy and love encouraging people—always smiling and laughing, so when someone asks me, “Hey, are you OK—you seem a little off”; well, that is my sign—the alarm goes off in my head—time to get with Jesus, time to get some alone time—time to reload.

Times of refreshing are short, periodical breaks—perhaps hours or even minutes long—find somewhere to be alone with God, be alone with your thoughts—alone in a quiet place. This is a hectic world with tons of noise—find a place of solace. As for prayer, the Celtic Christians used to say that they had “thin places” to go and pray. These were places where God and mad would meet. You can find your own thin place, wherever that may be—a closet, at a bedside, a closed office door, a park—wherever—but these times are imperative for the health of your soul. Make sure that you’re intentional about letting go of the world.

3. When to Get Away

Why a vacation? Here’s the reason; for several years, actually, make that almost ten years to be exact, I have taken times of refreshing instead of vacations. My wife and I take small weekend trips, when we can—even if only for the day. For the health of our marriage and our souls, this time is needed to take a small “sabbatical.” Everyone needs time of rejuvenation—a time of rest—time to slow everything down and listen to the soul.

For marriages, it is just as imperative to learn to say no (to work) and learn to let go (find time together) and to get away, as it is to love one another. One of the first things my wife and I look into about our vacations is where we will go and worship; for us—our rest is unified time together with God. Find that mutual love, together.

As well, all of us need vacation time when burnout is imminent—when the focus is gone, when the love for our occupation is gone—we’re of no value anyway. In ministry especially, pastors will continue to work and work and serve, perhaps even partaking in a martyr syndrome (i.e. “I’m doing it for Christ”). But when you can’t focus, or your nerves are biting back at people and it carries over into your home life—it’s time to get away.

Example: The 18th century preachers John Wesley and George Whitefield were good friends. It is well known that the evangelist Whitefield, noted that he would rather burnout and die preaching than to rest. Through letters, Wesley had advised him to take time off several times. Upon his refusal to do so, Whitefield gave his last sermon, went to bed and never awoke.  The notable point, Wesley outlived Whitefield and stayed in ministry for twenty one more years. While God is the author of life and knows our time—suffice it to say that He created the seventh day for rest, and Christ, the second Adam, had to show humanity by example—that times of refreshing and getting away are imperative for our souls, our relationship with God, and our relationships with others. Think about where you are right now. What do you need? A few hours, a few minutes, a few days, or even more—heed the advice.

FullSizeRender-10Matt Fretwell is married, has three daughters, is an author (Denied Desires; Identity Theft, Sanctificagious, 30:1 Manhood, 30:1 Marriage), pastor of a 112 year old revitalized church planting church (Oak Hall Baptist) in Sandston, Virginia), is the founder of Job 31 Ministries, an advocate board member of Living Bread Ministries, a global comprehensive Church Planting organization, the East Coast Coordinator for New Breed Church Planting, and co-founder of a church planting and revitalization initiative called Planting RVA, in Richmond, Va. Matt also writes for Church Planter Magazine and is pursuing his doctorate in Great Commission Leadership at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Twitter: @w84harpazo

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