Psychiatrist Robert Coles once noticed a pattern in those who burn out while serving others. The first warning sign is weariness. Next comes cynicism about things ever improving, then bitterness, despair, depression, and finally burnout.
After writing a book about recovering from broken dreams, I once entered a busy season of conference speaking. Helping people find hope after disappointment was richly rewarding, but came at a cost. One day, about to step on stage, I thought I was going to faint. I hadn’t slept well, a vacation hadn’t fixed my weariness, and the thought of hearing another person’s problems afterward filled me with dread. I was following Coles’ pattern.
Scripture gives two strategies for beating burnout. In Isaiah 40, the weary soul is renewed when it hopes in the Lord (vv. 29–31). I needed to rest in God, trusting Him to work, rather than pushing on in my own dwindling strength. And Psalm 103 says God renews us by satisfying our desires with good things (v. 5). While this includes forgiveness and redemption (vv. 3–4), provisions of joy and play come from Him too. When I reworked my schedule to include more prayer, rest, and hobbies like photography, I began to feel healthy again.
Burnout begins with weariness. Let’s stop it going further. We will serve others best when our lives include both worship and rest.
Disillusioned and wanting a more meaningful life, Leon quit his job in finance. Then one day he saw a homeless man holding up a sign at a street corner: KINDNESS IS THE BEST MEDICINE. Leon says, “Those words rammed straight into me. It was an epiphany.”
Leon decided to begin his new life by creating an international organization to promote kindness. He travels around the world, relying on strangers to provide him with food, gas, and a place to stay. Then he rewards them with good deeds of his own such as feeding orphans or building on to a school for underprivileged children. He says, “It’s sometimes seen as being soft. But kindness is a profound strength.”
Christ’s very essence as God is goodness, so kindness naturally flowed from Him. I love the story of what Jesus did when He came upon the funeral procession of a widow’s only son (Luke 7:11–17). The grieving woman most likely was dependent on her son for financial support. We don’t read in the story that anyone asked Jesus to intervene. Purely from the goodness of His nature (v. 13), Jesus was concerned and brought her son back to life. The people said of Him, “God has come to help his people” (v. 16).
“We’re in the library, and we can see the flames right outside!” She was scared, we could hear it in her voice. We know her voice—she’s our daughter. At the same time we knew her college campus was the safest place for her and her almost 3,000 fellow students. The 2018 Woolsey Fire spread quicker than anyone anticipated—most of all fire personnel. The record heat and dry conditions in the California canyon, along with the legendary Santa Ana winds, were all the rather small sparks needed to ultimately burn 97,000 acres, destroy over 1,600 structures, and kill three people. In the photos taken after the fire was contained, the usual lush coastline resembled the barren surface of the moon.
In the book of James, the author starts out naming small but powerful things: “bits in the mouths of horses” and the rudders of ships (James 3:3-4). And while familiar, these examples are somewhat removed from us. But then he names something a little closer to home, something small that every human being possesses—a tongue. And while this chapter is first directed specifically to teachers (v. 1), the application quickly spreads to each of us. The tongue, small as it is can lead to disastrous results.
Our small tongues are powerful, but our big God is more powerful. His help on a daily basis provides the strength to rein in and guide our words.
Never give up. Be the reason someone smiles. You’re amazing. It isn’t where you came from—it’s where you’re going that counts. Some schoolchildren in Virginia Beach, Virginia, found these messages and more written on bananas in their lunchroom. Cafeteria manager Stacey Truman took the time to write the encouraging notes on fruit, which the kids dubbed, “talking bananas.”
This caring outreach reminds me of Barnabas’s heart for the “spiritual youngsters” in the ancient city of Antioch (Acts 11:22–24). Barnabas was famous for his ability to inspire people. Known as a good man, full of faith and the Holy Spirit, he prompted the new believers to “remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (v. 23). I imagine he spent time with those he wanted to help, saying things like: Keep praying. Trust the Lord. Stay close to God when life is hard.
New believers, like children, need loads of encouragement. They are full of potential. They’re discovering what they’re good at. They may not fully realize what God wants to do in and through them, and often, the enemy works overtime to prevent their faith from flourishing.
Those of us who have walked with Jesus for a while understand how hard the Christian life can be. May all of us be able to give and receive encouragement as God’s Spirit guides us and reminds us of spiritual truth.
My husband’s brother lives about 1,200 miles away in the mountains of Colorado. Despite the distance, Gerrits has always been a beloved family member because of his great sense of humor and kind heart. However, as long as I can remember, his siblings have good-naturedly joked about his favored status in their mother’s eyes. Several years ago, they even presented him with a T-shirt sporting the words “I’m Mom’s Favorite.”
While we all enjoyed the silliness of our siblings, true favoritism is no joking matter. In Genesis 37, we read about Jacob who gave his son Joseph an ornate coat—an indication to his other children that Joseph was special (v. 3). Without a hint of subtlety, the coat’s message shouted: “Joseph is my favorite son.”
Displaying favoritism can be crippling in a family. Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, had favored him over her son Esau, leading to a schism between the two brothers (25:28). The dysfunction was perpetuated when Jacob favored his wife Rachel (Joseph’s mother) over his wife Leah, creating discord and heartache (29:30–31). No doubt this pattern was the unhealthy basis for Joseph’s brothers to despise their younger brother, even considering his murder (37:17–20).
When it comes to our relationships, we may sometimes find it tricky to be objective. But our goal must be to treat everyone without favoritism and to love every person in our life as our Father loves us (John 13:34).