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When asked the question, “Have you ever experienced service burnout?” I can easily answer, “YES.” Don’t get me wrong, serving has been full of great peaks, but if I’m honest, there have also been deep valleys. There have been times when I have looked at my “to do” list and the feelings of worry and exhaustion quickly turned to bitterness. These surely don’t sound like qualities of a willing heart or a thankful servant. Even so, God has taught me some great lessons in the valleys, and I‘ll be transparent as I share about my time in the valley of burnout. It’s not a good place to be, and it’s not a place where God is glorified. It’s a place where the fruits of the spirit become a bit rotten.
I’m a do-er, a Martha most definitely. I love to set goals and embrace opportunities, so I often find myself eager to sign up for things…they all look and sound so great! I never want to miss out on things, so I often have found myself comparing the activities that my kids do with those that others are doing because I don’t want them to miss out either. The struggle is real! But soon enough reality always sets in after I have signed away our time. Panic about how to fit it all in takes over. But, as we know with Martha, Jesus wasn’t pleased with her zest to make things great (at least great according to her opinion) and do, do, do. There was a better choice that Martha was missing, and well, I can admit to missing it as well. No wonder worry and panic can be familiar emotions. Listen to how Jesus responds to Martha’s busy-as-a-bee attitude: “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “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.” – Luke 10:41-42 (NIV)
That ‘better choice’ that Jesus spoke of was time with the Lord.
I took the position of Elementary Coordinator at The Bible Chapel, South Hills Campus in December of 2013. I was excited and dove in head first. In addition to my new role, I also added a second Bible study to my list, piled on more opportunities to the kids’ schedules, and took on the role of homeroom mom. I did all this while continuing to unpack boxes from a recent move and becoming smitten for a six-week-old lab puppy that our kids, ages eight, eight and four at the time, begged us for (yep, she became part of our family). I just kept taking more on. I was good at that. They were all great things, but pretty soon I was beat down.
When the schedule is too full, something has to give. For me it was the ‘better choice’ that Jesus was talking about. Putting time with Jesus on the backburner didn’t give me more time; in fact I felt burnt out. I found myself with shingles, the meals at home were becoming less thought out, and the laundry piles were growing. When my alarm clock would go off on a Sunday morning, I dreamed of hitting the snooze button. My patience was drained and my tears had run dry.
As a mom, I don’t have just my own schedule to manage and my own needs to meet, but that of three kids and a husband. God has shown me a whole lot of grace in learning to prioritize needs from wants. He has revealed that needs and wants don’t have to be material things; they can also be those calendar-type things that consume our time. It’s taken me years, and I am still in need of improvement, but I’m learning that, left to my own desires and understanding, I am not fit to manage my schedule or that of my family on my own. I need help and direction.
Thankfully, I have a close relationship with the one who made the morning and night and is the giver of all resources. He always has time for me, even when I have decided to fill up my calendar with everything that doesn’t include him. He reminds me that he is the better choice. I’ve learned, and am still learning, to go to the one who is the maker of my time and resources before my fingers start signing up for things. I have seen and felt the anxiety that I’ve caused myself as I sell off our time, and the trickle-down effect it’s had on my kids and husband, Christian. It’s easy to fall into Martha mode when I am not Mary first, but for true fullness and contentment, my schedule needs to line up with God’s. So, in the valley of burnout, God has taught me:
1. Time with the Lord must never be compromised.
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:2
When we commit to making dedicated time for ‘the renewing of our minds’ through quiet time with the Lord, he will make his plan for our lives evident to us.
2. Jesus must be the focus of my eyes and eternity the focus of my heart, and if I skip #1, it’s hard to keep on track with #2.
“We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4-5.
When I start to look around me and compare, my perspective gets all off course. I must live for an audience of one, The One.
3. The Lord is the Giver of all things – salvation, family, time, talents, and treasures. It’s about him, not me. That takes me back to lesson #1.
With God’s conviction and grace, Christian and I now connect over a calendar at the start of each season as we seek God’s plans. We also asked one another what the top three things that we would like each other to have completed on a daily basis are. My hubby said: A home cooked meal, a tidy home, and a non-messy mama (there have been too many days when my words, attitude and hair have all been quite messy!)
So for me that means:
- A good daily dose of rest and time with the Lord (which should help keep my attitude and words less messy.)
- Time to brush my hair (yep, seriously, I actually have to tell myself to do that), cook good meals, and tidy the home
- Each of us will serve as God’s hands and feet in a position at church in the area he leads us to.
- Each of us will serve as God’s hands and feet in one activity for each of our children.
Anything else that comes our way needs to come after these and after seeking the Father’s guidance.
On a side note, Martha’s life often gets sung as a bad note, but there’s a happy tune that follows. In Martha’s life we see forgiveness, grace and the power to be transformed by Jesus Christ. Read John 11:17-29 for the full story.
With a new service year and school year underway, there are many things that beg for our time. Most of them are great things, and it’s easy to get swept into the excitement and anticipation of a new year with new opportunities.
Spend time with the maker of time.
See where he is guiding you. His plans are best.