‘For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast [or depressed], comforted us by the coming of Titus, 2 Corinthians 7:5-8
This post is about taking time off – resting as it were. Rest is the key to restoration – an ability to renew ourselves – physically, spiritually and emotionally. Several years ago, a group of my colleagues joined together and took a course which was aimed at entrepreneurs and was designed to help them become better at what they did. It was called Focus Four. One of the four basic concepts to being successful at achieving your goals was the idea of a “free day.” A free day involved a day in which you performed no work related to your occupation. Taking a day off to play golf with a client didn’t count, for example. The idea of the program was to make yourself more efficient at what you did by improving the processes and people around you so that you increased the number of free days on your calendar. When you planned your schedule for the next three months, you actually set goals of the number of free days during a given month. Central to this concept was that a rested and restored individual could continue to be at their peak when they functioned at work.
The concept validated the idea that rest is required in order to continue to be productive. There is a misconception that as long as you are enjoying what you do, you can work as long and as hard as you want and never burnout. Having experienced burnout personally and worked with dozens of people over the past 25 years, I can personally say that this is false. Any work that includes frustration, conflict and stress, without proper emotional and psychological refueling can be instrumental to causing burnout. When I am talking about “burnout”, I am referring to a condition where the body is so overloaded that it is incapable of functioning properly – it often is accompanied by clinical depression, physical symptoms, substance abuse and an inability to mentally function properly. I experienced it twice, so that makes me an expert. There may be lots of things that you might want to become an expert at, but this is not one of them.
Several years ago, Bill Hybels, the Senior pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, a mega-church in Illinois, experienced burnout. His description of his experience is consistent with my experience. He said that all humans have “tanks’ that have to be filled – physical (through nourishment and exercise), spiritual, and emotional. He paid attention to the first two, but ignored his emotional “tank” to his detriment. He was interviewed in Christianity Today last year about schedules, replenishment, burnout and “strategic neglect.” In the interview, he describes burnout as the same as “hitting a wall at high velocity”.
Pastors and leaders are notorious at ignoring their limits, often with predictable results. Even Jesus took time off to be alone. Hybels puts it this way: “[..] I give leaders a gentle but serious warning. If you sustain unsafe levels of speed long enough, something terrible is going to happen.” Even the Apostle Paul had his limits as chronicled in 2 Corinthians 7:5-6, which is the only recorded biblical burnout I have found. Some versions translate the word “downcast” as “depressed.” The symptoms are listed – physcally worn out, harassed-facing physical and mental conflicts and depression. These are all symptoms of burnout, but note the emphasis on the emotional battle – the “fears within”. Paul endured incredible physical torment during his ministry – there is a list of what endured later in 2 Corinthians 11::24-28, including stoning, lashings, three shipwrecks, beatings with rods, starvation and lack of sleep, and constantly facing all kinds of dangers. He goes on in verse 28 to say that the equal of all that physical punishment was the “daily pressure of my concern for all the churches.” Again, your emotional health is important.
The challenge here is to maintain a balance in your life – one which includes taking time off to fill your emotional tank – taking off “free days” as it were. If you have a mentor, he would be the first to embrace this as a healthy lifestyle – one which includes sufficient free days to maintain proper emotional health. You can start by planning free days, which is getting harder as technology keeps us constantly connected through our cell phones with email at our fingertips. As a starter, try going a complete day without a cell phone. You might like it.
My 50th Anniversary gift to my wife is to take a cruise to Alaska, which will start this weekend when we fly to Anchorage on Sunday. My wife asked if I was going to write this blog while on the trip. I told her I hadn’t thought about it, but she said that she wanted our trip to be a total vacation for the two of us – to have “free days” together. Even though I enjoy doing these blogs, I really didn’t argue. Accordingly, I will resume the posts when I return in the third week of August. I guess you could say I am taking my own advice.
If you want to read the interview with Bill Hybels in Christianity Today, it can be found here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2015/winter/secret-of-strategic-neglect.html