As the director of clergy well-being for our clergy leaders in both the Dakotas and Minnesota Annual Conferences, I pay attention to what our clergy need to strengthen resiliency. Resiliency, simply stated, is the ability to navigate difficult challenges. But sometimes our resiliency muscle has atrophied to a point where burnout is looming.
What do we even mean when we talk about burnout? We are often so casual about how we toss around the phrase “I am really burnt out on ____.” You fill in the blank. It could be a relationship, a job, an effort, cooking nightly, preaching weekly, life.
Burnout is literally defined as the reduction of fuel or substance to nothing through use or combustion. It is curious to think about the definition of our “fuel.” Take a stab at that. What has been your “fuel” when you are at your best?
There are three types of burnout:
You are so underchallenged the work or effort is boring, monotonous, energy-draining. “Can I get through another day of non-stimulating, passionless, seemingly invaluable contributions?”
You are neglected due to lack of feedback, direction, guidance, basic attention. “Does anyone even notice me or what I am doing or feeling?”
You are on overload working harder, doing more, trying to keep all the balls of life/work in the air. “How can I continue at this pace, dropping the balls, missing deadlines, failing to be good at all the things?”
The three pillars or “three Ps” of resiliency are needed to head off possible burnout. If even one of the pillars are missing, the other two are affected.
People: We all need communities of support through our workplace, families, friendships, and other connections. Failure to have a well-rounded network of people in your life is problematic. If you notice that you are feeling disconnected or choosing to isolate yourself, you may be exhibiting a sign of burnout.
Practices: We all need to engage in holistic practices that address mind, body, spirit. Practices that care for our physical health, stimulate our mind and learning, and deepen our connection with God. If you are exhausted from stress—physical and mental overload—and notice your practices are deteriorating or no longer exist, you may be exhibiting a sign of burnout.
Purpose: We all need work (whether paid or unpaid) that matters and has meaning. If we notice goals that once mattered seem pointless, unattainable, or meaningless, you may be exhibiting a sign of burnout.
To stop the downward spiral into a state of burnout where you cannot rebound, focus on the “three Ps” of people, practices, and purpose. Pick one and reflect upon how you are feeling and what adjustments you could make.
Make space. Creating space and time, not only to reflect, but to consider a small change is important.
Seek resources, a counselor, or a spiritual director—someone who will objectively listen to how you are feeling. Often our burnout and diminished resiliency may be rooted in a spiritual void or vacancy where we have failed to ground ourselves in Scripture, prayer, and God’s loving presence. Perhaps that is where we should start!
Difficult times are part of our human condition. Burnout does not need to be.
Diane Owen is the Dakotas-Minnesota Area director of clergy well-being.