I coach and consult with high-capacity leaders, and I’m hearing them express increased levels of irritability and fatigue as the quarantine continues. When normally diligent, gospel-focused, hard-working people report a surprisingly decreased level of energy, it should get our attention. Even with less activity, I see some signs of burnout of a different kind. I feel it in myself too.
What might contribute to our quarantine burnout?
Burnout factor #1: We’re made for whole-person interaction but half-living largely dis-embodied lives.
Prior to the quarantine, our lives flowed between in the flesh interaction and supplemented with digital. Now, we’re stuck in one extreme. We’re cut off from the whole-person kind of interaction for which God created us. We simply are not together in time and space. And it wears on us. We are, in an important manner, literally alienated from work.
One psychiatrist wrote that the anticipation mechanisms in our embodied brains act “like a cell phone that keeps ‘looking’ for cell service… we are much more tired when our bodies can’t find each other in real time and space.” That’s a new type of exhaustion.
We’re in more video calls between 9-5 than ever, then turn around and get back on for personal leisure time. The dissonance and tension in your brain and body contribute to feeling tired and unlike your normal self. BBC Worklife says that with all this time on video calls, “You cannot relax into conversation[s] naturally.” We never really unwind.
You and I are made for actual, human, embodied interaction and rest. We can’t have it right now.
Burnout factor #2. You’re made by God to win but you’re losing in ways you’ve never lost before.
Think about it: after making mankind in His own image, Genesis 1:28 shows us God intention was for us to win.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion….
Most of us felt stable in our vocations and jobs prior to this disruption. We, in many ways, were used to winning. But not anymore.
We’re losing control. Even if you haven’t lost your life or a loved one, stop and consider this question: what are you losing? Control of schedule, freedom, plans, dreams, graduations, jobs, security, savings and a sense of a stable future. That is a lot to be losing. And I’m sure there is more.
And yet we still feel the performative pressure to subdue, have dominion and succeed. To one degree or another we’ve all experienced emotional loss that leads to low-level exhaustion.
Burnout Factor #3: You’re made to worship God together but sort-of worshiping isn’t satisfying.
Jason, pastor friend of mine, compared virtual worship services to a ‘take out’ meal in a recent sermon. That made me pause and think. Like take-out is okay, it isn’t profoundly satisfying. We are made by God to commune together with Him over a rich, sit-down meal of worship.
Recorded worship services and Zoom community groups are better than nothing. But you’re yearning to get back to corporate, embodied, gathered worship with God’s family. In quarantine, we can’t expect spiritual fast-food take out to spiritually and emotionally satisfy the hunger and thirst we have for worship with God’s people.
What to do?
- Admit the truth. To friends, family, God and yourself admit that you’re simply a human with limits. When I say that out loud, it acts like a hard reset on for my phone. Confession shuts off the background programs that drain me and reminds me that I’m a human, made in the image of God.
- Turn from little gods. We all set up false saviors in your own hearts who punish us when we fail them. Thankfully, there is a real God who has had mercy on us all.
- Turn to God’s mercy and grace. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are rescued and renewed, even in times of quarantine. In the midst of this confusing season, He knows the plan that is best for you and you can trust Him, rest in Him completely. Totally.
- Wait patiently. I admit, I’m more like Indigo Montoya in The Princess Bride. I hate waiting. But I’m learning again and again to not walk away from the Lord when I’m frustrated by circumstance, loss and half-living.
Let’s ask ourselves: what is the Holy Spirit prompting me to believe about Jesus that will change and renew me during this quarantine season?
I’d love to hear what you think.