Falling Into the Lake
What is spiritual burnout? One of the simplest definitions I have heard is, “spiritual and emotional exhaustion, with little or no desire to keep trying.” That is not a comprehensive explanation by any means, but it hints at the feelings and weariness that are part of the package.
Spiritual burnout can also be defined as growing disillusionment with the belief system, usually because we are believing in an altered version. Our expectations never come to pass, and as the years roll by we become increasingly disillusioned. In a future article we will discuss further this idea and the Gospel.
A third perspective is to realize the individual has been trying, and even striving, to live the victorious life by their own power instead of God’s power. It doesn’t work and disillusionment, frustration and fatigue take over. So you are spiritually burned-out when you are depleted of all spiritual strength, exhausted in your attempts to please God and church.
Here is an over-simplified analogy. When you first come out of Bible College or Seminary you are usually young, energetic and very idealistic. At first glance the church and the Bible seem side by side like a boat next to a dock. The young leader steps into the boat with one foot. It doesn’t take long to notice the boat and the dock are not one unit – at least not yet! As the boat moves away from the dock, the ministry leader finds him/herself stretched and action needs to be taken. Ideally, with the strength of God and not his own strength, he can bring the boat back closer to the dock. This probably does happen in many cases, but often the leader tries to hold the boat near the dock by his own strength, and with time becomes bewildered, tired and even angry at the boat. Some make a decision to jump back to the dock even if it means no more pay check from the boat. Others step completely into the boat for survival reasons with the sincere hope they can still help the boat. Others wait too long to make a decision and when they reach burnout they cannot jump one way or the other. At some point they are totally exhausted and fall into the lake. If rescue doesn’t come quickly, the fallen one may simply drown in a lake of bitter disillusionment.
This crazy concept of striving to please God has fried so many leaders and followers alike. It is nothing less than a curse, and robs us of the rest we have in Jesus. Please see our article, Religion and Weariness.