Burnout and Sabbath.
By Katie Green
Burnout and Sabbath. Two seemingly separate concepts on two seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum. Sabbath keeping is often regarded as a Holy experience, achieved and practiced only by those ministry workers who have mastered the art of holiness and holy living. Burnout is often seen as shameful, a result of sin, laziness, not enough prayer, not enough discipline, lacking in one’s relationship with God, etc, etc, etc. Burnout and Sabbath keeping are highly connected and intertwined.
My story of burnout runs deep and I will just touch the surface here. When I signed up to be a missionary, I stepped away from my profession in the States because I was assured my counseling skills were “needed” by my sending organization. Once on the field, I realized that the need for counselors was great, but we were far from valued, respected, or utilized. Instead of providing trauma counseling to children in our ministry with major trauma history, I was needed as an English teacher, Art teacher, Sponsorship Coordinator, Intern Mentor, Awana group leader, Tutor, Hostess, and many roles that took precedence over providing counseling. I was needed in these roles because if I didn’t do it, “who else would?” Working outside one’s gifted areas for extended periods of time is a major contributor to burnout. Missionaries are constantly asked (and more often told) to work outside their gifted areas for extended periods of time. This is not how we were designed.
Our Creator designed Sabbath keeping to be an integral part of our lives. He set the example when he rested after creating life. Jesus was our living example as he often stepped away to rest. Sabbath was meant for restoration. We need rest. We need rest from work, routine, demands of life. What we are able to give to others comes out of our rest. When we rest well, we are able to give well. Sabbath was designed to restore our natural, created rhythm of work and rest, and align us with our Creator.
I was not given permission to rest as a missionary. Self-care was viewed as selfish. Time away, unless under the guise of “team building,” was viewed as frivolous and often met with “but what are your supporters going to think?” Time in the States was always interlaced with the expectations of support raising and keeping up appearances with supporters, as well as keeping my sending organization’s home office happy by completing added tasks. There was no rest as a missionary. We were not allowed to keep the Sabbath, nor were we educated on the importance of doing so. Unfortunately, this is common in ministry. The consequences of not making Sabbath keeping part of one’s life are steep.
Sabbath keeping is hard. The demands and distractions of life pile up. We “don’t have time” for a whole day of Sabbath. We need rest. Sabbath restores us.
Katie Green served as a missionary in the Dominican Republic from 2010-2015. Though the challenges of life in the D.R. were great, so were the joys. A large chunk of her heart remains there. Like many others, she left the field extremely burned out. Because of her own and the experiences of many others, Katie is passionate about member care and advocacy. She recently launched Empowered Restoration Counseling (www.empoweredrestoration.com) and her favorite clients are missionaries and ministry workers. Her Wisconsin home is always open to those who need a place of rest and encouragement!