A Serious Discussion: Burnout, Part 1

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Diane and I sat in our bedroom, assessing our reality.

We’d been working with the homeless for twelve years and we were more than tired. Diane finds herself constantly exhausted, always wanting to go to bed, hardly able to look at our home, let alone begin to clean it. I am constantly struggling with anger with people who ask me questions or who even try to help me work because my emotional need is a gaping hole. Diane plays computer games for hours a day. I struggle with an addiction to porn I had left behind decades earlier. We were a mess.

In our bedroom, I talked about the fact that we might just have to quit. To shut down the feedings that were serving hundreds of people a week. To close the church that was giving spiritual life to a hundred folks who otherwise wouldn’t participate in corporate worship. To invite those who lived with us to leave, many of them back to homelessness. To move to a different town, where we didn’t know so many needy people. For me to get a “regular” job, with an actual salary, so we didn’t have the stress of unpaid bills.

Diane let me spell out this scenario and then looked at me sharply. “We could do that. You could get another pastoral job—which, by the way, would stress you just as much as this one—and we could live a quiet, middle class life. But for how long? How long would it be before we began inviting the homeless to come to eat with us? How long before we invited someone in desperate need to stay with us? How long before we end up with the same ministry we have here, just in another city, and you having full time middle-class responsibilities on your back as well?”
I quickly recognized that she was right. Serving the Anawim was a calling, a vocation, not a pastime. It wasn’t a job, it was a lifestyle we chose that we cannot set aside. We could take breaks, but we cannot just move away from the work. It will follow us wherever we go.

Eventually, we worked a schedule to give us three months off, which was the beginning of healing for us. We still struggle with exhaustion, but we are in a better place than we have been. We still don’t get the rest we should, but we recognize the signs of burnout and we generally know how to avoid it.

  1. January 13, 2013


    I’ve been in ministry for the past dedcae and I’m taking a two year sabbatical. After losing our five-year-old son, Josiah, to cancer two years ago, I jumped right back in because I thought I had to. I didn’t wrestle with my own disappointments honestly and I drifted. It almost cost me my marriage and family but God’s grace has stepped in and we are doing wonderful but it’s because I had to call a time-out. It’s been the best thing for my family and for my own spiritual health breaking from professional Christianity. If God sees for us to ever reengage the ministry, we’ll definitely build margin and healthy boundaries into our life.


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