Fighting Burnout as a Pastor’s Wife
We’ve all had those days. You know, the ones where you crawl into bed, makeup still on, wondering if it’s okay not to brush your teeth just this once. All the while, you wonder what actually happened to the minutes that evaporated into history.
There have been plenty of days like that for me, particularly as a young mother. But even now, when “new season” after “new season” seems to steam-roll over me, I find myself asking my heavenly Father, “Where is the time going? When do I get to catch my breath? I don’t have anything left to pour out or give to all the needs and cries for help around me. God, what does faithfulness look like when I’m empty like this?” Sometimes the old adage “the days are long, but the years are short” begins to feel more like “the days are long and the years are long.”
So, what do we do, as those God has called to be “help-mates to under-shepherds,” when the never-ending demands pummel us? Well, in many ways our calling is the same as every Christian woman’s—and every Christian man’s. We’re to take up our cross daily, and follow him (Luke 9:23). And often, that cross we bear is a call to give out of poverty, not abundance.
BEING FILLED WHILE FEELING EMPTY
While teaching his disciples one day in the temple, Jesus used a curious example of godly giving:
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’ (Mark 12:41–44)
This widow—likely lonely and rejected by her society—literally gave everything she had. She held nothing back from the Lord, entrusting herself to the one who cares for the least of these. Do you live like that with your time and energy? Do you pour yourself out like a drink offering for him, striving after lasting things, like people’s souls? Do you surrender precious extra time with your husband in order to free him up to minister to others?
I don’t intend to encourage a reckless kind of sacrifice that leads to utter burn-out, bitterness, and exhaustion, which is a genuine possibility for those in full-time, vocational ministry. I’m simply asking fellow pastors’ wives to look hard into their hearts and examine their own expectations and perceived limitations.
There’s nothing quite like watching God work through your life when you bring absolutely nothing to the table. Those times strengthen our faith as we watch his strength supernaturally infuse us. So often, I’ve found myself dreading some commitment we’d made together only to find that our supposed giving turned into receiving. I can’t even begin to count the times I’ve watched God bless others through me when I felt absolutely incapable of loving or caring for a sister in need. In fact, it’s often been my tears of exhaustion and discouragement that encouraged someone more than my wise words on a “good day.”
How many times has the Lord encouraged me while I sat and listened to a friend share share when I so selfishly wanted someone to listen to my hurts? Every time, I walk away reminded that God is good and everything he has for me is good (Ps. 119:68). It’s a 2 Corinthians kind of comfort we offer, wherein our desperation and lack actually highlights God’s power and strength in and through us: “For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
We should praise God for opportunities to display his power in our perceived weaknesses.
GOD’S WORD FILLS OUR EMPTY SOULS
But it’s necessary to ask a question: what should we do when our hearts have turned cold? When we’ve got nothing left to give, where should we turn?
Gratefully, God tells us in his Word. He says, “Come, everyone who thirst, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Is. 55:1). Jesus offers us rest in himself through the comfort we find in his Word.
Too often, we toil in our own strength and wonder why we’re so exhausted. Other times, we work and work only to forget that man cannot live by bread alone. He can only live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deut. 8:3).
Like oxygen masks on an airplane, we must attach ourselves to the oxygen of God’s Word before we’re going to be of any use to others who are suffocating on the fumes of this world.
Sister, you also might need to learn how to say no to some things in order to be alone with your Lord. We must never neglect our first love for what we perceive to be more important work. To re-energize, perhaps we should take some time in solitude to feast on Scripture, listen to expositional sermons, journal about the ways God has provided, or pray through the “rumblings” of our souls. Striving for balance requires insight from the Holy Spirit.
GLORIFYING HIM, BY TRUSTING HIM
The widow Jesus praised at the temple had the kind of faith we should aspire ourselves; it was supernatural.
I’ve often wondered how many times she may have done that in her life, giving all she had and entrusting God to meet her needs. Pray for God to grant you opportunities to walk forward without sight, knowing that in faith he will provide. After all, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” When our spirits are poor in him. we’re promised the kingdom of heaven. What an exchange!
CRAWLING TOWARD HEAVEN
If you feel like you can’t walk today, are you crawling toward heaven? Are you reaching your hands heavenward while grabbing a church member along the way, entrusting your grasp will pull them along too? He’s strong enough, you know. In times of discouragement and exhaustion, we’re so prone to forget his past faithfulness. As the hymn says, we’re “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” But look at the next line, an invitation to trust him: “Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it. Seal it for thy courts above.”
But what if you’re so depleted you feel like you can’t even crawl? Burnout and depression are real problems that demand attention and often outside help. But as best you can, make sure not to confuse this feeling with the day-to-day struggles of the Christian life. Our exhaustion and poverty of spirit can be met with the best kind of exchange: our burdens for his yoke. There, we’ll re-discover that his yoke is easy and light, and in it we’ll find rest for our souls (Matt. 11:28–30).
So, the next time you crawl into bed, fully clothed with your makeup still on, wondering what happened to your day, remember the widow. But don’t stop there. Remember the Lord’s faithfulness in your own life. He will not call you to something that he will not equip you to handle. He only gives things in our lives for which he will provide. And sister, you know from the track record of your own life that he will certainly provide!