Dryness and Burnout

We all face times of dryness in life. There are times where life is so full and rewarding, too. But those times when we are used up — and the world seems to have no shortage of places to consume our energy — will undoubtedly show up. And sometimes they last for a long season.

For today’s post, I want to ask two series of questions. First, I want to make sure we are not putting ourselves in this mess. Second, I want to make sure we are doing everything we can to pull ourselves out of the funk in which we find ourselves.

How Did I Get Here?

1. Is there any unconfessed sin in my life?

While this is not the only reason for tough times, there is a reality that unconfessed sin in our lives shows up in strange places, not the least of which is in how I feel about life.

There is a great passage in Genesis 3 that shows me something fascinating. Adam and Eve have blown it. They are confronted by God and they have to face the music for their choices. The interesting part is that the consequences of their actions don’t seem to line up with the actions themselves.

To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

The choice is to eat fruit. The consequence is that you will have pain in childbearing. What? Does that make any sense? But that is the reality of unconfessed sin. It shows up in funny places. So maybe before we give up, a place to start wrestling with how we got here is in exploring the condition of our souls related to choices.

We see another idea of sin in Job 1:

When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom.

Maybe we should be in the habit of repentance even if we don’t have anything major to confess. And maybe interceding for those we love is part of opening up blessing for them as well.

2. Am I focusing too much on the negative side of life?

Life is full of amazing moments. There are these moments of true beauty every day: A smile, a hug, a kind word, accomplishing a goal, new birth, and even the smell of fresh coffee brewing in the morning seems to be pregnant with hope and opportunity.

Life is also full of insecurity, fear, and betrayal. There are these moments that leave us with a knot in the pit of our stomachs: a mean look, the story I tell in my head because of how you said what you said, the reality that I am not going to meet the deadline, sickness, tragedy, and many other things.

With so much positive and negative in every day, what will I allow to define my days?

Perhaps part of why I feel so overwhelmed is that I have allowed the negative of life to take a front seat in my mind. And maybe it is time to put negativity in its place.

3. Are my expectations too high?

I don’t know anyone who takes pride in his or her work who doesn’t wrestle with this one at some level. There are some who are an extreme version of this — we call them perfectionists. But each of us will hit a moment in our lives where we realize that what we are capable of is not what we had hoped we would accomplish.

This can be very defeating.

Over time, this feeling potentially causes us to give up and feel inadequate in other areas, as well. If not kept in check, we will ultimately decide to just stop trying: stop taking risks and stop working at something you care about. In fact, you might not let yourself care at all. This is a dead zone for hope and passion, and it leads to emptiness and burnout.

4. What is God trying to teach me?

In my life, I have hit a number of growth plateaus. Each time, in order to break through that plateau, I have had to face a season of what I call “walking the valley.”

This valley time is so important and precious to me. Although I wish I could grow without these times, I simply don’t. I don’t love the process of being broken, but I love brokenness.

I have decided that rather than fold, I must choose to live well in the tension of this valley. It is in this valley that my leadership, my fortitude, and my character are defined. If I want to move forward, I must weather this season well.

Never forget these truths:

God prunes those who bear fruit in order to make them more fruitful. (John 15:2)

God disciplines those He loves like dearly loved children. (Hebrews 12:4–8)

How Do I Pull Myself Out of This?

1. What part of this can I own?

I have the amazing privilege of counseling with a lot of people for quite a few different reasons. For many, there is a life circumstance they believe they are stuck in. And the story follows a similar pattern regardless of who is telling it.

The pattern always has a “hero and villain” element in it. I am stuck, through no fault of my own. I was perfect and those around me have robbed me of any chance to be anything other than this mess, feeling terrible.

Don’t worry. I have been there, too. And I really believed it. I was stuck because of someone else’s poor decisions.

Let’s run out an example:

My parents were mean. Therefore, food became my hiding place. So it is my parents’ fault that I am overweight.

This is fairly common, or some version of it. I am a drug addict or alcoholic. I have an anger problem. Whatever it is, it is always someone else’s fault.

While it is true that the other person did whatever they did to you, you are the only person who can change or affect how you deal with it. The eating for comfort is your issue, not theirs. Escaping into drugs and alcohol is your issue, not theirs.

What can I own? I must learn to regain control over the things that I can control. This opens the door to change. The change doesn’t come because the circumstances are different. Change comes because I see the circumstances differently. I take back the power to be something more when I own the part of this that is mine.

Maybe I can own that I acted a certain way that led to the actions of someone else. Maybe I can own the fact that I have some less than desirable attitudes and choices that have led to my circumstances. For example, if I hang out with drug dealers, I don’t get to blame them when my life doesn’t go well, or when the police don’t trust me. It is not their fault.

In ministry, I can’t be graceless and mean from the pulpit and then be upset when people leave the church. I have to own my part.

I cannot own more than my part. But I must own my part.

2. Who do I need to take care of during this?

One of the best ways to get past my own mess is to serve others. I cannot tell you how many stories I know from my own life, as well as from the life of others, that prove serving others is a key catalyst to real joy. And perhaps one reason for finding ourselves without joy or energy for life is we are so consumed in being served that we have lost the power of serving.

3. What am I reading?

Another great way to get out of a funk is to read your way out. Pretty much any reading is a benefit for many physiological reasons. It stimulates the brain and the chemical processes of the brain.

Obviously, the more we read the Bible and spiritual material, the better it is for us. But to be clear, this is not the only reading that benefits us. For example, if I am struggling in my leadership, a book on leadership might be the very thing that fires me up again. Parenting, marriage, relationships in general — these are all issues that can rob us of our passion and fire. There are phenomenal books on these topics that can do wonders if you find yourself struggling there.

Struggling with creativity in work? There are books for that. Struggling with resolving conflict? There are great books for that. No matter what is “keeping you stuck,” reading your way out is a great thing to do.

4. How much time am I spending watching TV?

There is much research out about the harmful effects of late night television or computers or phones or tablets on sleep patterns. Not only that, but the content itself is so subversively evil. Reality television is not a great standard for what is good and bad, or right and wrong, and yet it is fast becoming the measuring rod for culture.

Turn the TV off. Read or do a project. And then sleep better. If you are telling yourself you are too tired to do that, then reread this paragraph. Sleeping better is a MAJOR key to feeling rested. You are becoming your own worst enemy when you watch TV right before going to bed.

5. How is my diet?

We all know the reality that diet affects how we feel. The stamina to finish the day, to fight the problems we all face with energy, and to stay positive is largely tied to what kinds of food we are eating. And we all know it.

Try this: Go to work, and tell all your coworkers and the people you serve that you know a way to be better at your job — to be more energetic, passionate, creative, focused, productive, and positive — but you chose not to do it. You chose underperformance. How would that go over? And yet, when we don’t eat well, that is exactly what we are saying.

Oh, and by the way, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.

6. Am I exercising?

I read a great book recently that was recommended to me by a friend. It is called Take the Stairs. One great point the author makes in the book is that when we are tired, we don’t want to exercise. The problem is, exercising is the thing that will give us more energy. So the very thing that will help is the very thing we don’t do.

I have a few tips I have learned to help with consistent exercise. Make a plan. Don’t simply move weight or jump around. Get a partner. It is too easy to take a break when I am by myself. Record your progress. You will miss gains when you don’t. Don’t exercise to lose weight — exercise because it is right and good. Don’t look at the scale. It is not an accurate determiner of progress.

7. Who am I letting in on the truth of where I am?

Running is better with a partner. And running in life is the same. Who are your running mates? Who knows the truth of you? More importantly, who knows you well enough that they can call bull on your thoughts that are outside of the truth?

Pretending things are okay is sometimes necessary, but it isn’t real. Who are the friends you must be real with? These are key pieces to moving forward.

8. What is my action plan?

For many people who come into my office, they have tried their “option A” and it didn’t work, so now they are out of options.

I often think about the night I watched Michael Jordan score 53 points in a basketball game. That is a lot.

What if his option A hadn’t worked? It wasn’t that the other team was just giving him the lane. They had two and three people guarding him. And yet, he found a way to get the ball in the bucket.

So move forward.

Make a list of all the things that need to be done. Prioritize that list. Pick one thing and get it done. Then go to the second. Don’t try to do more than one.

Things are really big in my head, but once I get them on paper, they feel much more manageable.

I am sure there are many more things you could add to the list. How do you work your way out of a dry season?