“I’m not okay. I’m tired. I’m broken and exhausted. I just need some rest.”
Those are the words of the former megachurch pastor, Pete Wilson as he resigned from his church. I get where Pete was coming from. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve said something like that.
How about you? Does any of this sound familiar?
-I’ll be okay if I just get a break.
-I don’t know how much longer I can do this.
-I’m stressed out of my mind.
-As soon as I finish one thing there are fifty more.
-No one gets how hard I work.
-If one more person asks me to ____________ I’m going to __________.
After … Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, Mother’s Day, the fall series, the staff retreat, the planning meeting, the missions trip, I find that new hire, the kids go to bed, the kids’ graduate, the kids leave home, we finish the remodel,
After… we get to 500, 1000, 2000, I complete my degree, I’m finally making X dollars,
After I write that book, I prove I’m as good as _____ etc… after that, I will get a handle on all this.
How’s that working for you?
Every sport has an offseason. Most businesses mark the end of the fiscal year… but many of us, especially those of us in ministry, don’t know how to turn it off. The way we work is unstainable. We live as if everything is all up to us.
Sometimes, a leader crashes because of the weight of the load they’re carrying. Other times, it’s because they’re afraid to give it a rest.
Jesus speaks to all of us running on fumes:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 Msg
For years I wanted to believe my burden could be light. But my experience was hit and miss. When I felt exhausted I just kept telling my body, “you can do more.” I was proud of being a hard worker. But I stayed too long in overdrive. We have the most important mission on the planet and I often thought, planned and acted like I had to be some kind of spiritual superhero.
It almost killed me and nearly destroyed my marriage.
I’m about to share with you one simple (but not easy) practice I use every day to combat overwhelm. I’m not exaggerating when to say it has probably lowered my stress a good 50%- even in the high demand ministry culture, I work in today.
But first, a couple of things that help frame this practice for me.
At creation, God put a tempo in everything, a predictable rhythm. Night to day. Rest. Sabbath to work. Rest.
Part of the grace of Eden is the pace of Eden.
The word human comes from the Latin word humas, meaning earth. The very rhythms of nature, the sky, the rocks, the trees, the seasons, sunlight and moonlight are all made of the same spirit and matter we are. We were made for the pace of creation but we live at the speed of light.
Trust God, not only for the grace of your life but, also, with the pace of your life.
Even though he could heal the sick and raise the dead, Jesus fully honored his human limitations. As the Son of man, he regularly said to his disciples: That’s enough. Let’s get out on the water or go up the mountain or stop somewhere for dinner, or get away for a few days and disconnect. He had no problem unplugging.
The shocking thing is there was a ton of work still left for him to do.
If you’re going to live like Jesus, you have to rest like Jesus.
And to do that fully you’re going to have to trust that the Father has hold of whatever’s left undone until your next workday.
We walk by faith and we rest by faith, too.
The kind of rest I’m talking about means some part of every day, every week and every year you come to a full and complete stop.
I do this is by holding myself to daily, weekly, and yearly “finish lines.”
Whenever I talk about this, many leaders say they just can’t turn it off. Work is always on their mind. There is always another person to get with, always another email in our inbox, always another hill to climb.
The operative word is “always.” We fool ourselves like the addict that says, “just one more drink.” Only we say, “just one more meeting,” “one more text,” “one more Instagram post.” No wonder so many of us (me included) burn out trying to keep pace with an out of control culture.
And it’s killing us.
For starters (not to mention what this does to relationships) the body keeps the score. (* to see Bessel van der Kolk’s great book by that title, click here.) And the soul eventually shrivels in a relentless race to gain the world.
I ignored this and ended up in the hospital every decade of my adult life believing I was having a heart attack. I had excruciating pain in my chest and left arm. The tests always came back the same: “too much stress.”
If we can’t say no, our body will do it for us.
Each time, I complied with my doctors’ orders to slow down…for several months. Then I’d overdo it and pull back, overdo it and pull back. Until the ultimate train wreck of my life severed, once and for all, my relentless need to achieve. Finally, I was convinced there had to be a healthier way to do good ministry without losing your soul.
If you don’t come apart for a while you will come apart after a while. Dallas Willard
Every time I share this simple process with leaders and they put it into consistent practice, so many tell me that it revolutionizes the way they work.
Here’s what one guy said a year after I’d challenged him to implement this practice: “I didn’t think I could do this. Not only did I not think I could do it, but I also didn’t think I could get others to go along with it. But I stand here today amazed that once I made this commitment, here I am a year later, and not only am leading with a healthier soul, but it’s probably saved both my marriage and ministry.”
To get started…
Stop right now (there will never be a “good time”) and choose a specific time that will define the absolute end of each workday. Let nothing interfere with your finish line.
This may sound impossible but, if I can do this you can, too.
Pull out your calendar, pick a time at the end of the day, (mine is 7pm) and write FINISH LINE. This means, at that exact time every day, no matter what’s going on or what’s due, you turn off your phone, your computer, and your to-do list.
Shut down your human doing and turn on your human being. Give your mind a rest. Burnout happens from the stress we put on our minds. This is the time to engage with people and non-work activities that contribute to your refueling.
You might also need to rework how many night meetings are you going to agree to.
Stop Work/Start Rest- 6pm each day.
Stop Rest/Start Work- 8am each day.
Tip: Every time you reach your finish line, literally say out loud to yourself and/ or others around you the same thing God said at the end of his work days: “This is good. It’s enough for today.”
Create some small ritual that makes it official for you. Set your phone alarm to go off at your finish line and intentionally do something to mark the moment like listen for the sound of your office door closing, or pour the same glass of your favorite beverage. Do something that requires one or more of your senses to help you put a lid on the day.
(Note to parents with young children: Part of your finish line may need to be at your child’s bedtime. 🙂 But it’ll still be a great help to shut down all outside work.
And, yes, you are probably going to have to have a few conversations with co-workers, your spouse or boss to negotiate how this can work for everyone involved. Most people have your best interest at heart and want you to live at a sustainable pace. Usually, it’s the expectations we have for ourselves that give us the most trouble.
Next, calendar your WEEK & YEAR end finish lines and implement them in the same exact way.
Every time you cross a finish line, say out loud to yourself and/or others: “This is good. It’s enough for one week/ one year!” Create simple finish line celebration rituals that signify completion to you.
Establishing and keeping clear finish lines
- helps you right-size your superhero mentality/ you are not unlimited
- encourages calm, reduces overwhelm
- allows you to sufficiently refuel so you’re not running on fumes
- keeps you closer to the pace of your original human design
- grows your faith in God and your focus on God’s ability to complete his work in your life without resorting to fear or anxiety.
Caron and I are creating a new pdf that goes into a lot more detail on how and why we practice daily, weekly and yearly finish lines. Be looking for it later this summer.
If you’re going to live like Jesus you have to rest like Jesus.