Letter to a Youth Worker Experiencing Burnout
I wish this was not a letter you were reading behind a computer screen or on your phone, but rather a conversation we were having in person, maybe over a cup of tea and a warm brownie. In the midst of a pandemic, I am sure much has been asked of you. On top of many other responsibilities, you may also now find yourself the A/V expert at church and the teacher at home. Maybe your feelings of burnout come from conversations and issues completely unrelated to the pandemic. The call to walk alongside teenagers and their families is a beautiful, but difficult task. No matter the reason you feel burnt out in this season, may this letter act as a reminder to the faithfulness and steadfast love of the Lord.
In seasons when I have experienced burnout, several individuals have said things that were meant to be helpful, but came across as hurtful, and at times even callous. I pray that these self-evaluative questions include words of Biblical encouragement and help you to assess your own burnout.
- Do you know what God’s Word says about burnout? There are a lot of popular phrases in our culture right now that well-meaning friends may share with you in a season like this, either verbally or through social media: “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” or “Be tougher than the tough times.” Often, these phrases or sayings ultimately place the burden of doing more or being more on the person who already feels they have nothing left of themselves to give. I am grateful that Scripture encourages us in a different way. We read in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Maybe in this season you feel heavy laden, as though the weight of the world rests on your shoulders. Scripture has good news for you and for me. God’s comforting words for those experiencing burnout call for reliance on and rest in Him, instead of ourselves. He is gentle, and He has compassion for those who are tired. I pray that in this season you find time to sit with the comforting words of Jesus found all throughout Scripture. He cares deeply for you, friend.
- Do you have a community of people who are for you? Jesus did life with a variety of people. Sometimes ministering in large groups, as in the feeding of the five thousand. Sometimes he shared an intimate moment with one person in need, as in the healing of the bleeding woman. Jesus also had a group of twelve men, His disciples, that he turned to. He also had a group of three who He was closest with. Peter, James, and John were trustworthy friends of Jesus. They witnessed certain things that other disciples did not, such as the transfiguration of Jesus. In your own life you may find yourself often pouring out and ministering to groups and individuals so much that you find it difficult to make time for close friendships. It is important to have friends who you feel safe to share your joys and frustrations with. I have found it especially life giving to have a friend that I am able to seek prayer and encouragement from that is outside of my church circles. She can often give me Biblical, sound advice because she has some distance from a situation that I may be wrestling with. I pray that in this season the Lord blesses you with a friend and confidant that you are able to share your feelings of burnout with.
- Do you have something outside of ministry that gives you rest? You do not need to be in youth ministry long to realize that it is not your typical 9-5 job. Your evenings and weekends may include retreats, meetings, small groups, or youth group. You have probably received at least one late night text message or phone call from a student during a crisis in the past year. As we walk alongside and minister to students, it can be difficult to make time for rest, but rest is one of the most important things for sustainability in ministry. If you are feeling burnt out, I encourage you to find something that fills up your cup. Finding an activity or hobby that brings your soul rest can be a step in the right direction towards setting some healthy boundaries in ministry. Also, here is your friendly reminder that it is okay to actually take your day off! I pray that in this season the Lord grants you space to do something that fills your cup, and gives your soul the rest that it needs.
In this season, may you know how much God loves, cares, and pursues you. His desire is not to have you burning the candle at both ends in ministry. His desire is not for you “suck it up” when your soul is weary. His desire is that you would find rest in His Word, and an abiding comfort in His care for you.