Burning Out

I have avoided blogging for quite some time.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not great at blogging, nor was I great at keeping a diary when I was younger, but I have intentionally refrained from blogging, tweeting and facebooking about church.

I burned out.

It started last May, when after dropping out of school to pursue church-work I approached my supervisor to discuss my employment situation. I was part time (15-20 hours, depending on the time of the year), and was solely responsible for the majority of communication at the largest Lutheran church in Austin, Texas. At that time, I was on fire for ministry, and I had a deep seeded passion to communicate the Gospel in the most creative ways possible. As it happened, budget season had rolled around, and my supervisor was in favor of transitioning me to full-time (with the understanding I would still work towards a degree).

After the last of the important budget meetings, I asked my supervisor what the decision was. I was told, “we couldn’t make room in the budget for you this time around. While we all agreed we would be sad to see you go, we understand if you can’t stay.” The conversation was much longer, of course, but the gist was “no.”

I was numb for quite a few months. In retrospect I can see where I was developing a bitterness in response to the hurt I felt from the rejection, but I still felt deep inside that I was where I was supposed to be, and doing what I was supposed to do.

I found quite a bit of comfort at the Echo Conference. There’s something therapeutic about being surrounded by people with similar thoughts and ideas about the Church. Even more, the Conclave Sessions were a fantastic experience that provided invaluable amounts of encouragement and ideas to bring back to my church. During the first night of Conclave, Gary Molander told his story of burning out, and I sat there in silent shock as I realized what he was talking about was eerily similar to where I was emotionally and spiritually. That night I pushed down my feelings and pretended I wasn’t feeling hurt or resentment, and allowed myself to take in the rest of my week (the last day of Conclave and the entirety of Echo).

By the end of the conferences, I was excited. I had ideas pouring out of me, and I even stayed up until the wee hours of the night working on different concepts to take back to my church. Upon presenting the ideas to my supervisor, I was told “this is great, Lauren, but remember you only work 20 hours!” That’s when everything inside of me broke. I began to feel under-appreciated, unmotivated, and inadequate to perform my job duties. I was lucky to have a mentor who poured into me during this period of time and was supportive of whatever decision I intended to make.

I carried around my resignation letter for 2 weeks in my purse, hoping there would be some magical moment telling me to stay, but it never came. I cried the entire time I sat in my supervisor’s office as he tried to comprehend what I was doing. The next two weeks were filled with coworkers consoling me and telling me not to leave. Most blamed other staff members, and others expected I’d change my mind before I left. I posted my job description knowing that half of what I did wasn’t on it, and knowing even then that no one with the talent necessary would take the job knowing it was part-time.

The entire month following my last day, I worked hard trying to find a new position. It’s hard to put yourself out there when you’re emotionally dead and your self-confidence was thrown out the window months prior. I did odd-jobs here and there, but nothing that replaced my previous position.

I hated graphic design, I hated communication, but mainly I hated myself. I had allowed myself to succumb to feeling inadequate for so long that I no longer knew what I wanted to do with my life. I questioned God’s intentions with everything, and I didn’t trust that I was going to be taken care of, because I didn’t feel I deserved to be taken care of. I felt guilty for losing the passion that had moved me just months before, and I thought God wouldn’t love me as much because I wasn’t as passionate as I once was for Him. There was a place in my heart that was dead, and as much as I tried to revive it, I couldn’t.

One month after leaving my church, they called me back and offered a full-time position. I should have been ecstatic, over-the-moon with happiness, but I wasn’t. I took the job because it felt like the right thing to do, and it was financially responsible, but there was still a part of me that was dead. I was still hurting.

How do you cure a complete burnout?

1. TALK. I cannot be more serious than I am right now. You need someone in your life that you can talk to. This person should (for obvious reasons) be unbiased in the situation. Finding a counselor or a mentor with your best interests at heart would be the best option, but you have to talk out your feelings. Bottling things inside doesn’t do anything but add pressure which leads to an explosion later.

2. Pray. Duh. Jesus knows what’s up.

3. Temporarily re-direct your focus (AKA the “hobby”). This one was actually pretty difficult for me. When people ask what I like to do for fun, I tell them “graphic design in my spare time”, because my spare time is usually spent on side projects (freelance). I know I’m young, but it was difficult for me to intentionally set aside time to do things other than work, or think about work. Luckily, I have a fantastic support group that I live with who also happen to LOVE to paint canvases. Therapy for my creative soul.

4. Assess your situation often. One of the most important things I did upon returning was to stop and look at where I was. Stress causes us to become focused solely on the task at hand. Good for productivity, bad for mental and emotional health. I take short, frequent mental breaks to assess myself and my workload. If adjustment is needed, I take care of it. Becoming overwhelmed is a sure sign you’re not assessing your situation and evaluating your workload.

5. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. Multiple blogs, books, and tweets have been written about the art of setting boundaries.  I, myself, am no master of setting reasonable boundaries. I’m an unmarried college-age student with a demanding full-time job. I’m hardwired to stay up until 3am for no good reason, what else am I supposed to do with my time? Plus, thinking that “no” in church-work limits Jesus is crazy. It’s crazy. Jesus is bigger than your ability to design a business card specifically for the “Frail Ol’ Church Ladies” group. What needs to get done WILL get done, even if you’re not the one to do it.

It gets easier, but even now I’m not sure if burnout is totally reversible. Know your limits, and know there are people who love and support you no matter what.

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Creating Community

I was speaking with a close friend and colleague the other day about his recent trip to a small town in Kenya, where he and a group of people had an opportunity to engage with a small community of native Kenyans and embrace them in Christian love. He spoke fervidly about the local pastor of the area, who was determined to be an active part of his parishioner’s lives, not only spiritually, but took an active role in the local government, and was a leader in his church’s community. This passion for his church made a large impact in the village, and was a key component to the strong sense of community that was undeniably felt by Jon and his group.

Listening to him tell the stories of how Christ moved through not only the village but through the lives of his fellow missionaries filled my heart with wonder and amazement. How did this small church millions of miles away get it? What are we as a Church missing that they didn’t? How do we take the Kenyan model and put it into place within our own congregations?

There’s something we need to understand. At the end of the day, having thousands of people with lukewarm faith will mean nothing compared to the handful of people that dedicate themselves to actively seeking to create community among those they interact with. This concept isn’t new, it’s just something we find ourselves increasingly distancing ourselves from.

So here’s what we do, Church.
Live a life that actively involves the bystanders, Jesus did.
Stop concerning yourselves with the things you cannot change. Just trust that what needs to happen will, because it will.
Love unrelentingly.  Even when it’s hard, because it will be, but anything that’s worth something isn’t worth it because it’s easy.

These things are easy to say, but how many of us fail at these principles on a daily basis? I KNOW I do.

Be the example in your churches, it only takes a handful of faithful people to start a movement. In our church, we’ve taken the initiative by launching a quarterly campaign to share the lives of our church staff with our congregation, while encouraging the congregation to share more about each other with the people they interact with. It’s received an overwhelming response and our parishioners are excited about learning about more than the side we show on Sunday.

Foster community, Church.

Stop Pretending.

One of my favorite stories from pastoral sermons I’ve heard goes like this:

A man was drowning out in the middle of the ocean. Fearful for his life, he cried out to God, “God! Please save me!” Shortly after, a small boat came upon him, and the captain reached out his hand to save the man. Waving him on, the drowning man said, “No, thank you. God is going to save me.” The captain shrugged and went on about his business. The drowning man once again cried out, “Please, God! Save me!” and once again, another boat happened upon him. The drowning man again denied the help of the boat, claiming God would save him. This happened once more before the drowning man fell victim to the sea. When he reached the gates of Heaven and saw God, he asked, “God, why didn’t you save me? I cried out for you to help me, and save me from drowning. Why did you never come?” God looked at him for a long moment before answering, “I sent you three boats, didn’t I?”


More and more, I’m finding the relevance to this story in my own life. So often we get caught up in waiting for God to save us, when the whole time He’s been sending boat after boat trying to help us, but every time we deny the help and claim that in God’s time, our problem will magically be solved and we’ll be saved.

Stop pretending that the boats coming to your life, or even your work, aren’t the tools God has placed before you to do the work yourself.

Stop pretending that God will wave a hand over your situation and your problem will disappear on it’s own every single time.

Stop pretending that God isn’t speaking to you.

There are situations and circumstances in your life right now that God has given you the tools, passion, or abilities to overcome yourself. Right now, there’s something in your life that is frustrating you, upsetting you, or demeaning you and you have the power to fix it yourself. Why then, are you waiting on God to make the situation disappear?

Maybe for you, it’s the opposite. Maybe there is a goal you have been desperately trying to attain, and you have every tool in your toolbox necessary to do it. Why then, are you waiting for God to bestow upon you the gift of whatever comes from that situation to you without you putting in the effort?

God is indeed the mightiest and most wonderful power to ever exist, and He can do far more than we could ever ask or imagine, and He doesn’t NEED us to do anything. Still, time and time again He calls us to a situation, whether it be to grow ourselves or help another, and places everything in your hand for you to do it yourself and to glorify Him, but still, you feel the need to “wait for God” to hold your hand and walk you through it.

Because of the very nature of our sinful selves, we justly deserve death. We don’t deserve 1/10 of the gifts and blessings that God bestows upon us. Why would God, knowing the sins that even you overlook, call you to do something for His glory? Because even after we fall short of His glory time and time again, He seeks us with passion that if physically quantifiable would outnumber any human numerical scale, and forgives you of the countless offenses against Him without thinking twice about it.

Why then, after knowing all this, would you not pour your heart and soul into what He has called you to do? Why do you wait for Him to do it for you? Why do you not get into the boat?

Stop pretending. Start acting.