How many times have you found yourself overwhelmed and burned out? If you are like me, it’s probably been more than once! I say all the time that we get thrown into so many circumstances in life and even if there are a lot of good things (by our definition), the amount of activity just seems to keep increasing, and it totally wears us out. That’s where I find myself now, and I’m sure many of you can relate.
So how do you know when the candle you’ve been burning at both ends is about to disappear? Well, first there are the obvious clinical signs like:
- Exhaustion – physical and/or emotional
- Physical health issues – headaches, dizziness, chest pains, illness, etc.
- Mental health issues – anxiety, depression, anger or hopelessness
- Forgetfulness or having trouble concentrating
- Increased irritability
- Lack of productivity, poor performance or feeling like you never accomplish anything
- Pessimism or cynicism
Although I have been here before, this time around has brought some enlightening revelations that I just had to share.
I will not go into all the many things that are wearing me out these days, but suffice it to say I am being hit from all sides in all kinds of different ways. I have found myself in my car, heading to someplace I have responsibilities (work, church or home), sobbing and telling God, “I can’t do this anymore!” It is simply overwhelming. No one wants to live with a constant barrage of difficult circumstances, and yet when I look around me, it seems like so many of us are in that place most of the time. So I started wondering what I am taking on that is not my responsibility, and this is where my thoughts had to unravel a little so that they could come back together more appropriately.
I was raised with a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. I have always tried to be the best at what I do, but more importantly I have tried to love and serve God and others in every way possible. I’ve been active in church all my life, worked successfully at my job, and had all kinds of other interests and activities. My point is that I am not one to sit on the sidelines, and it is important for me to feel like what I am doing makes a difference for others. That all sounds great, until I began to realize my positive drive becomes warped when my sense of responsibility gets skewed.
Many of us take on far more responsibility than necessary for certain things in life. I realize there are also a lot of people who take NO responsibility for anything which makes the rest of us feel as though it is our job to pick up the slack. After all, if we don’t do it, who will? There is some truth in that question, but we need to be careful that we aren’t falling in love with being the “doer” or getting our fulfillment from being superhuman (or thinking we are). I admit fully I have been in that exact cycle at times in my own life. It feels good to get all kinds of stuff done! It feels good to help everyone. It feels good to plan and execute events, etc., but lately there have been a few situations that have brought to my attention the fact I have started mistaking my desire for my responsibility. That, my friends, is a dangerous mindset, because it means burnout is already upon us or barreling toward us at a high rate of speed! I mentioned that I have been wondering what I’ve taken on that is not my responsibility. What am I doing to myself that is adding to my own burnout these days? The answer is that I have been taking on misplaced responsibilities.
We all have areas where we have to rely on a leader of some kind. (I use the term “leader” loosely, as many so-called leaders do not actually lead.) In our jobs, we have Supervisors/Owners. In our churches we have Pastors. In volunteer work we have Executive Directors. You get where I’m going with this. The problem is when leaders don’t actually LEAD, everything starts falling apart. Even Proverbs 29:18 warns us, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” There are countless examples of organizations, churches or companies that have died off because of a lack of leadership. When that happens, people try to find all kinds of reasons for the failure of a company, church or even a family, when the truth is there was no leadership! When leaders become so engrossed in themselves, or so detached from the people they are supposedly serving, there is chaos. That chaos may not always manifest in external ways, but internally it leaves people feeling alone and without support or direction. That’s when you see informal leaders appear, and often those people are not always operating with the best intentions; sometimes they are seeking control. I will add though, sometimes there are also very good people who are simply trying to step up and keep things going in the absence of appropriately placed leadership. When leaders don’t lead, it begins a vicious cycle that only stops when the he or she takes a hard look in the mirror and changes, or you get a new leader. Aside from one of those two things, “the people perish.” Do you know whose responsibility it is to lead? THE LEADER’S!
So back to the revelation about responsibility and burnout that struck me so hard it changed my thinking. I realized that although the good I have been trying to do in certain areas of life has been sincere and from a heart of love, there was/is an extra element of compensating for what I perceive to be a lack of leadership. I’ve been here before, but this time it was like God opened up the sky and shined a huge light right down on this perception. You see, there are some areas in life where you can only do so much. We should always do what God calls us to do and let Him handle the results, but when there is no life or passion in those around you, people are perishing. There is no amount of effort you or I can put into an organization of any kind that will effectively substitute for a lack of leadership from the person who holds the official position of leader, regardless of the title by which it is called. And if it IS possible for us to keep holding things together when a leader won’t lead, then we have much bigger problems than lifelessness or a lack of passion.
It is a hard thing to realize, no matter how much we love or care about our jobs, churches, volunteer work, etc., there is no amount of effort we can put in that will substitute for leadership. I’m not saying we can’t step up and be leaders in some of these areas, but when THE leader won’t (or can’t) step up and fulfill their responsibilities, our efforts will so often result in a burnout that scorches us at the very core. It not only burns us out, it changes what was intended for good into something that is unhealthy for us. We can only keep pressing on when we realize that some things are not our responsibility.
For a person of faith, God is my ultimate leader and guide. It is my responsibility to follow where He leads and do what He calls me to do. The rest is up to Him. What we do in life is important; there’s no question about that, but how we do it is even more important. When I start feeling like everything rests on my shoulders, I have misplaced my focus and energy. And when that happens, the fire within starts to suffocate and burnout is inevitable. I have had the opportunity to lead others in many different endeavors and situations, and it is a responsibility I take very seriously. I know what it is like to wither under a lack of leadership, and I know that God can do amazing things when we simply submit to Him and let Him do the heavy lifting.
So today I am struggling with the fact that I can’t fix some things that are broken. I’m struggling with the possibility of what God might be doing or how/where He is moving because it is unknown to me, even though He sees what I cannot. I am exhausted and discouraged by the path I have been walking and the lack of passion I see in others that I cannot ignite. It is my responsibility and my honor to pray for the people in leadership that affect me. It is my responsibility to love others and to forgive without judgment or condemnation. It is my responsibility to follow, unashamedly, wherever God leads. It is my responsibility to be and act as I am called to be and act. I will continue to ignite passion wherever God calls me to be a light, but it is time to let go of the responsibilities that He has placed on someone else.
It is my prayer that we will all take a deep breath and remember not everything is our responsibility. It’s time to stop trying to make up for what is lacking in others and step back to refocus. Without vision, the people perish. A lack of leadership can be scary, discouraging, frustrating and depressing, but thank God He has promised to lead and guide us no matter our circumstances. He is a God of passion not apathy, so if you are a leader, then lead! And if your leaders are not leading, then seek God’s direction on the path ahead. If we are seeking Him, He will make it clear.