Avoiding Burnout When You Feel Like Giving Up

Pastor's Life, Perspectives, Refreshment

Now that fall is upon us and holiday craziness is looming, are you struggling with motivation? Is it taking all you’ve got to just face what’s on your to-do list?

I remember waking up one morning and thinking “I don’t feel like getting out of bed.  I don’t feel like doing all that I have to do today. I feel like I’m running on empty.”

It was then that I knew burnout had hit me square between the eyes. I’d lost my fire, my fervor, my fuel.

I’d written books on letting God meet your emotional needs, yet emotionally I was feeling empty. I wrote about how God strengthens us through our alone times but I was feeling weakened.  I’d written a book on how to truly rest and I was feeling more overwhelmed than ever. And a year earlier I’d written a book on discovering and living out your dream and yet I was struggling with a lack of motivation.

What was wrong with me? Why was I feeling so complacent? Why did I have no motivation to continue forward?

I met with a doctor-friend of mine and his wife over lunch one day and talked about it.

“Burnout manifests itself in a certain activity you’re doing to the point that you’ve emptied the battery out,” said Dr. Jeff Birchall, who at that time was seeing a new person dealing with some sort of exhaustion, anxiety or depression every day…and following up with about four every day.

Dr. Birchall said 50 percent of the population suffer from burnout at some point in their life, 10 percent at any given moment.

The symptoms of burnout? They sound a lot like the symptoms of running on empty:   

  • chronic fatigue  (exhaustion, tiredness, a sense of being physically run down)
  • difficulty sleeping (waking in the middle of the night and finding yourself unable to return to sleep)
  • decreased concentration (can’t finish things)
  • anger at those making demands
  • self-criticism for putting up with the demands
  • cynicism, negativity, and irritability
  • a sense of being besieged
  • exploding easily at seemingly inconsequential things
  • frequent headaches and stomach aches
  • changes in appetite resulting in weight loss or gain
  • shortness of breath
  • increased irritability (men tend to get angry more; women tend to cry more)
  • social withdrawal
  • depression
  • feelings of helplessness

Maybe you can relate to some of those symptoms. Burnout can sometimes look like depression. Sometimes like anxiety. Some of us feel just a hint of it, like we’re getting our toes wet…others of us are drowning in it.  

I knew I wasn’t in a state of depression.  I wasn’t suffering from anxiety. But I was tired, overwhelmed and frustrated. The fire of my relationship with God that once burned brightly now seemed to be barely flickering. The juices had dried up. The motivation was lost. I was running on empty.

My friend says some cases of burnout or exhaustion require medication. Some require counseling. And mostly all of the cases require a change of environment to get the balance they need in their life. That one was mine. I needed the balance. Too much striving, not enough trusting. Too much work, not enough rest. Too much expenditure, not enough filling. It was time for something to change.

So I went to the Psalms – Scripture’s songs of human emotion – and related to the songwriters. They, too, experienced seasons of weariness and emptiness. They too cried out for help. And I began to notice a link between their cries for help while flat on their faces, and their ability to get back up on their feet again. What I saw in there, as that link, was a shift in focus (following times of prayer and praise) and a sense of determination.

The Psalmists often sang – in their songs of frustration and desperation – the words “I will” when it came to getting out of their slump.

When Asaph was disillusioned with the way life was going, he said “I will meditate on all Thy works…I will remember your deeds.” (Psalm 77:12).

David, in asking God to consider his sighing and hear his cries for help, said “I will come into your house; in reverence will I bow down” (Psalm 5:7). And when he felt like he was being defeated, he said “I will know that God is for me…I will not be afraid” (Psalm 56:9-11).

The Psalmists didn’t say “I think” or “I feel” or “I should.” It was “I will” – a sense of determination – a determined course of action. In all 150 Psalms in the Bible, the phrase “I will” is sung at least 140 times. That told me something. It made me realize that – whether I felt empty or not, whether I was motivated or not  – I needed to do something to allow God to infuse that energy into my life again. I needed to take whatever action would put me in the place where God could relight the fire in me and re-ignite the passion that once burned brightly. But I couldn’t wait until I felt like doing something, because the feeling might never come.

So I began to follow a course of action – a series of “I will” statements – to keep focused (in my mind), keep fit (in my body) and keep fresh (in my soul).

I began to say “I will start my day in prayer” and “I will get into God’s Word” so I could stay focused in my mind.  

I began to say “I will eat sensibly todayand “I will take opportunities to exercise” so I could keep fit in my body.   

And I began to say “I will” appreciate what God has made,” “I  will take time to reflect and worship” in order to keep my soul fresh.

As  I began saying “I will” about the things I didn’t feel like doing, God met me where I was and infused that fuel back into my life.

So what do you need to say “I will” about today?

  • “I will tackle this to-do list with enthusiasm”?
  • ” I will prioritize my family today”?
  • “I will live in a way that honors my God”?
  • “I will do all that is required of me to the best of my ability”?

Say those two words “I will” and see what you end up accomplishing today.


For more on keeping your body, mind and soul refreshed, see Cindi McMenamin’s book When You’re Running on Empty and save yourself from impending burnout. Cindi is a pastor’s wife, mother, national speaker, and the author of several more books including When Women Walk Alone, When Women Long for Rest and Women on the Edge.  For more on her books, free resources and ministry helps, see her website:   www.strengthforthesoul.com.


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