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Experiencing Burnout

Even leaders who have experienced God’s providence and power in amazing and unmistakable ways can give in to periods of fear, despair and darkness.

Mike Yaconelli was involved in Christian ministry for over 40 years. Editor of the satirical The Wittenburg Door (now The Door) and co-founder and owner of Youth Specialties, he challenged the thinking of and helped educate thousands of people.

Yet a few years ago he had no idea that he had “lost his soul somewhere.” He simply had a lingering sense that something was terribly wrong.

“I spent hours every day doing God’s work, but not one second doing soul work. I was consumed by the external and oblivious to the internal. In the darkness of my soul, I was stumbling around and bumping into the symptoms of my soul-lessness ”I was busy, superficial, friendless, afraid, and cynical ”but I didn’t know where all these negative parts of my life were coming from,” he recalled in the online article “Lost and Found: My Soul.”

His feelings had persisted for months. “I was filled with longings I couldn’t identify, yearnings I couldn’t express, and an emptiness that seemed to be expanding. I was desperate even though I couldn’t articulate my desperation.”

After spending some time at L’Arche, a community in Toronto, Canada, for those living with mental and physical disabilities, Yaconelli came to some startling insights.

First, he determined that his life was consumed with doing instead of being. Though busy doing the work of God, he had no idea how to let God work in him.

He also realized that he knew how to talk about God, but didn’t know how to sit still long enough to listen to God. God had been speaking to him all along, he discovered, but the noise in his life prevented him from hearing. The stillness and solitude he found at L’Arche allowed him to listen to God and come into contact with his soul in new ways.

Such times of introspection and renewal are essential for leaders, who keep impossible schedules; answer countless questions; handle major crises; make weighty decisions and manage multiple priorities. The physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that comes with leadership requires regular doses of rest. Those who go without it open the doors for burnout and depression.

Even leaders who have experienced God’s providence and power in amazing and unmistakable ways can give in to periods of fear, despair and darkness.

Such was the case with Elijah ¦

Jan Turrentine was curriculum editor at the Baptist Center for Ethics. She now works at the United Methodist Publishing House.