Resisting New Year’s Burnout and the Way of Jesus

In Spirituality by Kurt WillemsLeave a Comment

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burnout jesus new year

It is a new year. That is neat. 2018: we made it.

And of course, “newness” is a Christian theme that runs through the entire biblical story. Sometimes, in the Bible (and life), things happen that are so brand new that we are tempted to forget the road that led to that moment.

The resurrection of Jesus was brand new, but it was also the extension of something that God had already been up to. God had already chosen a people to be his representatives (Israel). These representatives gave birth to the incarnation of God’s own self, Jesus. Jesus lived, died and then rose.

But if we were to ignore the earlier parts of the story to only focus on the brand newness of the resurrection, we’d rob that event of its power. The resurrection only makes sense within a larger narrative framework.

The same is true about our lives. As I’ve been thinking about my own goals for a new year, I’ve been reflecting on why things don’t always come to fruition. And friends, I certainly have goals:

  • Continue to discover ways to become more healthy (as you may remember, I’ve had 3 surgeries in the past year and a half, as well as many other nagging medical issues come up). Totally worth what I’ve discovered about myself in the process, by the way!
  • Write more emails and blogs.
  • Podcast more often.
  • Finally write that first book! Seriously, I’ve been thinking about this for way too long.
  • Grow as a spiritual guide in the context of Christian community (especially at Pangea Church!).
  • Play with my kiddo more often and go on more dates with my wife.

I’m guessing you may have a list of your own.

Or perhaps, you are the opposite and have forsaken all things having to do with New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps a voice in your head says: They don’t work. They suck. They remind you that you suck. By the way… you are awesome and any story in your mind that tells you otherwise is demonic… so name it as such!

But I get it. Too many resolutions come and go. I personally don’t look at my list as a set of resolutions as much as targets for refocusing my energy in the new year. But if you’ve resolved to this or that in years past and then seen little to no fruit, I can understand the burnout that 2018 already carries.

Jesus teaches us that burnout doesn’t get the last word in our lives. The cost of following him is high and can be exhausting at times. Being tired and being burnt out are quite different, however. Jesus knew the risks and often took a breather in the wilderness to refocus his energy and to connect himself to the Heavenly Father.

But, you are not Jesus. Haha. As if you need a reminder. 😉

And often, having goals can end up being so burdensome. Especially if you feel like life is a constant battle to simply get through the day. There’s a quote that captures this struggle many of us face at certain seasons of our lives:

For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is “I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is “I don’t have enough time.” Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of…. Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack…. This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life…. (Lynne Twist, The Soul of Money, 43-45)

We often come to goals or New Year’s resolutions from a mentality of scarcity. We don’t have enough. We aren’t doing enough. We are doing so much that we couldn’t possibly add another thing to the list and survive it. And if that is the case, clearly there’s something wrong with us. Maybe, I’m not enough.

Identity plays into New Year’s in so many ways. We may feel the weight of scarcity so we decide to feed that mentality by promising ourselves to finally add something to our day. The gym. The Bible. Whatever it may be. And when we fail to add that new thing, the burden weighs us down even more. So, if you’ve given up: I get it.

This brings me back to the idea of “brand new.” If we imagine that 2018 is a ‘brand new year,’ we are fooling ourselves, unless we allow ourselves the grace to bring into 2018 the whole backstory of 2017, and so on. Brand new without allowing that to simultaneously carry a sense of continuity so that it invites us to be ‘renewed’ may be part of the problem. I know this is true of my experience.

We don’t get the resurrection, without the rebellion of humanity.
We don’t get the resurrection, without the Exodus.
We don’t get the resurrection without the Exile.
We don’t get the resurrection, without the incarnation.
We don’t get the resurrection, without a crucifixion.

Resurrection is ‘brand new’ insofar that it is a sign of God’s commitment to ‘renew.’ And growing pains are usually part of the journey.

New Year’s resolutions, goals, hopes, and dreams only make sense when they are anchored in our backstory. So we still may wake up feeling like we need more sleep. We will still have days where the time seems scarce. We will have moments when we feel the temptation to listen to the internal lies of inadequacy. Perhaps a reframe of what ‘newness’ is all about will give us courage to hold all of those things (rather than expect that they will magically disappear) while holding onto the hope that we can add a new chapter to our story in 2018.

And as followers of Jesus, we are resourced in a beautiful way. Jesus invites us into newness, not through adding chaos to our lives, but by addressing our identity of scarcity with a posture of rest. Jesus can bring about a newness of identity! I quote this passage a lot, but it is so important here:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11.28-30, MSG)

Maybe 2018 is about recovering from life and finding life with a God who loves you. Jesus, perhaps, may invite you to see that scarcity as a way of life leads to burnout, but that noticing abundance and newness just might lead to the life we resolve to have. May we let Jesus how to live well in 2018, bringing all of 2017 with us while trusting that this year can be ‘brand new’ in the best possible way. We can find freedom, wholeness, and rest. In 2018, with Jesus’ help: we will be enough.

Author: Kurt Willems

Kurt Willems is a pastor, author, and spiritual director. His first book, Echoing Hope: How the Humanity of Jesus Redeems our Pain, releases in March 2021. Kurt is also the host of the Theology Curator podcast. He has a master of divinity degree from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and a master of arts in comparative religion from the University of Washington.
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