3 Factors in Quarantine Burnout

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.cellphoneservice

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.

Right hand holding a brown paper bag isolated on white with clipping path.

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.I hate waiting
  4. 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.

Two Missional Ideas during Quarantine

‘I don’t know how to reach out and help! Or even if I should?!’

In a season of quarantine and social distancing, how can local churches continue their mission to reach out beyond what are now virtual walls?

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As a gospel coach to many pastors and church planters in the US and UK, I’ve heard two good ideas worth trying.

1. Neighborliness Note

Andy W. and his wife, who planted in a very secular city, took the initiative to put a note with their names and phone numbers on the door of every house on their short street. The note simply suggested forming a social media group to stay in touch. Here’s what they found helpful.

  • Suggest an app like WhatsApp or GroupMe.
  • At the beginning, act like a host of a virtual party, asking questions of those that join the group.
  • Ask if anyone is sick or needs help with anything.
  • Let members of the group meet the needs that are shared.
  • Pray for the people in the group privately.
  • Ask your church to pray about starting a group on their street.

Interestingly, this idea wasn’t the brainstorm of a cutting edge church planter. Andy brilliantly did his R&D and ripped off and duplicated the idea from his mother who lives in a small town.

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What are the baby steps of missional living? Loving your actual neighbor, right? This is a great time and season to start with a simple note.

2. Cooperate with Local Food Pantries

Sam K, a planter who meets in a local middle school was burdened for the many students who would go without free or reduced-price lunches. With job losses and children out of school the crisis got real quickly for many near his church. So they mobilized to work with a large community-based non-profit that already had infrastructure in place. The life blood of every non-profit are willing volunteers and donations. Here’s what to do:

  • Search for the nearest food pantry.
  • Contact them and find out what how you can help.
  • Spread the word in your church, neighborhood and social circles.
  • If you are healthy, go and serve, while observing appropriate social distancing.

Be part of the solution for families and children in crisis. Your church can be truly helpful in this time of crisis.

What are the baby steps of missional living? Loving your neighbors, right? It’s a great time and season to start with donating time and food to those in distress.

How is your church being missional? Let me know. I’d love to hear more good news.

Boring? or Life Changing?

Jesus said, ‘If my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.’

What a promise from Jesus? How does it work?

When I was 15, we had just moved to Norcross (outside of Atlanta) and my parents and friends from church encouraged me to memorize Bible verses topic by topic. I had a pretty boring summer job so it gave me something to do mentally while I picked up trash, cleaned carpets and scrubbed the pool at an apartment complex.

I don’t remember how many of those verses I memorized.

But lately I’ve been reviewing. And it’s amazing how many of them are still in my mind. And in my heart and life. I have had a pretty clear picture of who God is, how to live by faith in Christ, how to fight against temptation and live in Christ while in this world. I’m far from some super-Christian but I think I’m doing well.

It has something to do with God’s Word being in me, I think. Let me recommend to you the Navigators’ Topical Memory System. Or any system that will get God’s Word to abide in you.

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Going back to Jesus’ words I started with: I have not gotten every single thing that I have wished for – because often my wishes were flat out wrong and I didn’t know it – but I’ve grown to understand and celebrate what Jesus has done for me.

And I’m learning to ask for things that line up with His will. Like that you would memorize Scripture.

It might sound boring. But if you feel that, you’re wrong. It’s life changing.

Hope Demonstrated in Tragic yet Joyful Death

I wrote a week ago and asked for prayer for my friend Carlos Rodriguez and his family in Virginia Beach VA. Their 17 year-old son, Mark, was shot and killed on his way home from attending graduation. A police officer and the shooter also died. It was a huge shock in that suburban area. Huge local story that ended up on Yahoo!, in the UK’s Daily Mail and national news sources. My first post has links to the breaking story videos. A lot of shock and dismay.

So what happened after the news broke? Carlos and Leigh Ellen demonstrated a sure hope in Christ and inspired thousands as they publicly shared their sadness and joy during a trauma that would knock most people out. They were real and inspiring. They had multiple TV interviews and both spoke at a packed funeral.

Mark’s online blog and journals were full of amazingly mature views about God, life and specifically heaven. You could tell this young man was well parented and well discipled. Hundreds of thousands have viewed his blog where six weeks ago Mark wrote a post entitled ‘Heaven’ that closes with the words, ‘God is super good. I can’t wait to be with him forever.’ Amazing. Sad. Joyful. Inspiring. Hopeful.

It appears to me that the whole community was caught off guard by the idea that a family would not be devastated by this news but, in fact, actually celebrate God’s goodness and sovereignty in the face of a tragedy. Eternal life is real to them.

It was a remarkable funeral. The news coverage was amazingly open to hearing the Rodriguez family and friends talk about God and specifics about the Christian faith that might normally be edited out. You can get a sense of their godly reaction by watching any of these.

  • 3 minute news clip after the funeral five days later
  • Carlos speaking at memorial two days after Mark’s death – news coverage
  • Carlos’ interview – WAVY NBC news
  • Leigh Ellen and Carlos’ interview – WTKR news – “I don’t bear any malice toward [Mark’s murderer]”  

Thanks and keep on praying for them. They are going to go through waves of emotion and grief. Pray for me too as I talk to Carlos as well. Pray for their church, Redeemer Presbyterian, as they grieve too.

We’re going to be mulling over the Rodriguez’ God-focused, gracious and faith-filled reaction to this tragedy for years. This experience has modeled for me and Elizabeth to trust the Lord in the face of suffering.

And to never doubt that He is good.