A Recipe for Dealing with Burnout

stressed-out womanWhen my son was ten months old, I found myself at a point of ministry burnout. The adjustment to motherhood—combined with working on my Masters in Pastoral Studies and a few too many ministry commitments to teach courses and to lead retreats—had me exhausted and overwhelmed. It took some work to give myself permission to do so, but I finally decided to take steps to limit my commitments. As I entered my period of rest, I found four words coming up in prayer over and over again:


My body needed rest, and my soul did too. I gave myself permission to nap and rest when I could. I also began physically moving again. Exercise energized my body both physically and mentally. I knew I needed to do some non-church-related stuff and play. My life was off-kilter, swayed heavily towards ministry commitments. I gave myself permission to engage in activities that would offer balance to my life. I read books on topics other than faith and spirituality. I tried new recipes. I played in our yard. I made it a point to get together with friends.

In addition, I spent time processing what led me to this point of burnout, using tools such as journaling, spiritual direction, and talking with close, trusted, soul-friends. And above all, I knew I needed to take the time to pray, to feed my soul and spirit, to build my relationship with God so that I could continue to feed others. Even with a young child at home, I honored my commitment to my annual silent retreat.

Those words and that experience from four years ago have not left me. They are my own personal recipe for tackling burnout and the tiredness that occasionally seeps into my professional ministry work. I am leaning on the wisdom from that experience now in another period of much-needed rest. Those four words come into my life time and time again, often with emphasis on one of the four words.

Which of these four words are you called to focus on right now? To rest? To play? To process? To pray?


  1. Love this. Love your work. Reading this again & again as I sit in dark with candle & tea trying to resume morning prayer ( I’m week 10 unto 30 week retreat in daily of life full exercises) just moved new house new suburb and new routine feeling Vulnerable & weary– kids playing upstairs now at 530am– always learning how to look after everyone including me . Praying for you & your baby & hoping you keep writing one day when you can . Love Theresa

    • Joanna, thank you! I do believe my call is a both/and call to be both mom/wife and minister. With motherhood always coming first, my roles as minister changes with every new season my children enter! I expect when our new one arrives in 2014 there will be another shift. 🙂

  2. I’m sorry that when you write about not letting burnout seep into your life again that you mention your ministry, and not your child (or children). That your ministry is what you care to keep your energy fresh for. The child(ren)? They come off solely as source(s) of fatigue.

    • Julia, my children are my life’s greatest joys and gifts! We have two (age 6 and 4) and one on the way. They are always my first calling, and my ministry life happens around the priority of being their primary care-giver!
      The burnout I shared here was in the realm of my ministry and not my family life. What that time period of life taught me (when our oldest was 10 months old) was the importance of paying closer attention to my professional ministry life and my “yeses” so that it does not impact my family life and what I give to my family.
      The rest I seek, today, is different that years ago. The rest I seek today comes from a very recent move to a new city and a period of unemployment for my husband during some pretty tough economic times. It is resting from tough transitions.
      The words of rest-play-process-pray work for me in both periods of rest. They help guide me to pay attention to the movements of my heart, and they help me renew my spirit to be a better mom and wife to my family. A friend once shared an acronym for REST with me– Renewing Energy in Spirit Time. That is what I am striving for in this period of life!
      Thanks for commenting, and I hope this provides some clarity!

    • I feel inherent in Becky’s writing is the premise her children come first & motherhood’s demands& joys are an obvious first priority . It goes without saying, here, I believe.

  3. Thank you for sharing and posting this helpful tip on Burnout.
    I’m sure many will benefit from it as I shared it on my
    Facebook page. Thanks a lot. God bless!

  4. It is a solution helpful to your personal circumstances.
    Not everybody has the privilege to retreat from pressures in that way.
    For myself, I walk in nature when I can, I play music and seek spiritual guidance which helps me reflect on my responses to those people around me I have come into contact with.
    My prayers arise from experiences from my daily life.

    • Renate, thanks for replying! You are right that not everyone can retreat from pressures, and I, too, am one of those people too. I found this helpful for me within the busyness of life and within the responsibilities of life. The biggest lesson I learned back then was being more careful about what I said “yes” too. It taught me to become much more diligent in my discernment of both my commitments and what I did outside my ministry work.
      Prayer and rest, for me, as a mom of two (and one on the way) happens within my daily life! Thanks for sharing your ways of resting!

  5. Excellent and timely advice, Becky. These are four words I needed to hear today.As I continued to read through you insightful post I felt myself breathing, relaxing, and “coming to my senses.” I realize that at work I spend so much of my day coiled like a contracted spring. It’s nice to uncoil and simply show up for my life in whatever mode-resting, working, reflecting, praying, etc.–I happen to be in. Thanks!


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