Avoiding Spiritual Burnout

With all of the variety of things we are asked to do in our church service, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.  We have

  • Our callings
  • Our ministering assignments
  • Requests to help out with our kids’ youth activities
  • Special assignments for ward activities
  • Encouragements to participate in missionary work
  • Encouragements to participate in temple and family history

…and more. It’s very easy to see these things as an impossible stack of chores that constantly looms over us and drains the joy out of our discipleship. And we know that church commitments are not supposed to be as high on our priorities list as our families and our employment, but it’s hard to draw those lines clearly sometimes when other people draw their lines differently and sometimes even apply social pressure to mirror the way they draw their lines. Sometimes we just need to say no to things, for the sake of our own well-being and that of our families, and it’s hard not to feel guilty in those situations.

Elder Maxwell said in 1994:

Thus, the Lord has given us what might be called the “wisdom and order” and “strength and means” tests. Unwisely, we often write checks against our time accounts as we never would dare do, comparably, against our bank accounts. Sometimes we make so many commitments that they become like the vines in the allegory of Jacob, threatening to “overcome the roots,” including the “roots” of family relationships, friendships, and relationships with God.

We’ve talked before about women’s tendency to compare and men’s tendency to compete; bring those social dynamics into our church experience, and church can become an exhausting pressure cooker of unhealthy striving, tension, and burnout.  No wonder some people describe feeling a sense of relief when they step away from church.

Sister Okazaki counseled the Relief Society sisters:

Let us not add our disapproval to a sister’s burdens. And as we struggle with our own burdens, let us not diminish our strength by accepting the perhaps thoughtless judgments of others.

I would be interested in other people’s thoughts about how to navigate these challenges; my own approach is to visualize God’s work (these church commitments) in terms of flowing streams. The streams are flowing around us, and depending on

  • What season of life we are in
  • What our energy levels are
  • Our family’s health and togetherness
  • Our loved ones’ ability to support

We can pray for wisdom to step into the different streams and participate in God’s work as our circumstances and energy levels allow, and not feel obligated to be doing all of these things all of the time.

In our ward we did an indexing activity with youth this last week, and it was fantastic.  While looking over names of WW1 military registrants and inputting them to Family Search, I had a glimpse in my mind/heart/spirit of what it might feel like for someone to live and then to die and be viewed as a statistic in a world war, and then from the other side of the veil to become aware that someone is seeing me, and noticing me.  Someone knows my name.  People are looking for me.  I am valued.

I thought about how extraordinary it is that we can do that for people, when there are so many forces that pull us in the direction of isolation, anonymity, aloneness, and disconnection.  The connecting work of family history work is a beautiful, refreshing stream for so many people.

I told the people participating in our activity that there is a massive amount of indexing work that needs doing, and it will all get done.  We can step into that stream any time our schedules allow.  I usually do little bursts on indexing on Sundays- I take about an hour, sit down with a bowl of ice cream, and do a batch or two.  I don’t feel obligated to wade into that stream every Sunday.

Likewise, sometimes I get a thought of something I can write, or a comment or post on social media, that can help someone with their faith.  So I wade into that stream to minister and teach.  I don’t feel a need to constantly monitor social media for bad ideas to correct or souls to save.  God’s work is a flowing stream on social media, and I can step into — and out of — that stream as my circumstances and my mental/emotional/spiritual resources allow.

Elder Maxwell said that “Each of us has different strengths and faces different circumstances that call for calibrations that are highly individual.”  There is such a thing as calibrating too far to either extreme: overcommitment on one hand, and undercommitment on the other.  With overcommitment, we are never in our comfort zone, and we become exhausted and resentful. It’s religion that lacks personal understanding of grace.  At the other extreme, with undercommitment, we are always in our comfort zone: as Elder Maxwell said, “We are so busy checking on our own temperatures, we do not notice the burning fevers of others…” or paraphrasing Jesus, we never lose ourselves enough to find ourselves (Luke 9:24). We never experience any authentic growth.

The “wisdom and order” that King Benjamin spoke of are essential, but always a challenge to discern.


Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Wisdom and Order

Sister Chieko Okazaki, Rowing Your Boat

Elder M. Russell Ballard, O Be Wise

One thought on “Avoiding Spiritual Burnout”

  1. A Christian writer I read sometimes analogizes the renewal our souls and bodies need to the four streams that left the Garden of Eden. He says there are four streams that will sustain us, if we nourish them:
    1. Walking with God
    2. Receiving God’s intimate counsel
    3. Deep restoration
    4. Spiritual warfare (fighting for your heart)

    So often our religious “work” takes us away from these things. We have to row against that current, and make sure we are consciously putting these things in our lives. This is from his book _Waking the Dead_.

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