4 Bible Characters Who Experienced Burnout
By Betsy St. Amant Haddox, Crosswalk.com
Everyone gets tired and burned out. Our current culture makes this even easier to accomplish by giving us tools that essentially mean we never unplug. We’re never unreachable. Multiple devices stay at our fingertips, ensuring that work and marketing and promotion, and information are only ever a few clicks away. Unfortunately, that also means that effort, striving, and sensory overload are only a few clicks away.
How often have you sat down to read a book, play a game with your kids, or eat dinner and found yourself scrolling through your email, social media, or text messages…and you don’t even remember picking your phone up? Yikes. We’re on autopilot, falling deeper and deeper down the well, and by the time we look up, we can barely see daylight. Add to that overload the very real burdens of financial stress, trying to keep our kids in a good school, or safe tires on the car, or plenty of food in the pantry, and well…
It’s easy to get burned out.
But I believe Christians compound this problem for themselves. So often, when believers reach that stage of over-stimulated, over-informed, overworked burnout, they go a step further and add an extra weight to their already weary shoulders—guilt.
If you grew up in church, you likely heard it preached (often!) how important serving can be. How crucial it is to give back, to deny yourself, take up your cross, and get on the nursery rotation, already! Ladle soup for the homeless. Teach Sunday School. Give a substantial tithe. Donate. Volunteer. Pour.
But you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Serving and sacrificial love are Christ-like qualities that we should aim for. The trick, however, is recognizing we can’t permanently stay in that spot of pouring. Even Jesus retreated from the crowds and ministry to go pray. How much more so do we need that time of refueling and restoration?
One of the best ways to combat guilt and condemnation is to recognize the beautiful concept of relatability. Having someone hear our woes and confessions, hear our struggle and guilt, and respond with “me too” brings a huge sense of relief and healing. It’s good not to feel alone. It’s motivating. It’s comforting.
To show we’re in good company, here are four Bible characters who also experienced burnout. (And the what-to-do’s and what-not-to-do’s we can glean from their examples!):
The Psalms are filled with David’s praises but also with his laments. He wrote beautiful, breathtaking accounts of God’s glory and faithfulness, but he also wrote many pieces from the depths of despair. David is one of the best examples in the Bible of how it’s perfectly acceptable to have feelings and to process them—and how always to point those emotions back to God and realign them under what we know to be true about the Lord.
David is known for his full spectrum of extremes. He was a “man after God’s own heart” but also infamous for a series of sins that ended with generations of consequences. When he committed adultery with Bathsheba, he didn’t stop there—he had her husband murdered to try to cover his sin. Then he lost the baby born from that union and had all manner of drama with his future sons. But despite himself, David’s story is one of redemption and the Lord working in him through all the ups and downs. We’d be silly to think David didn’t experience burnout in his journey. After all, he ran and hid from frequent attempts on his life, lived in caves, fought in wars, fought wild animals, and fought a giant…to name a few.
2 Samuel 21:15 (ESV) "There was war again between the Philistines and Israel, and David went down together with his servants, and they fought against the Philistines. And David grew weary."
He grew weary. And understandably so. I don’t think Scripture would document this fact outright if it weren’t there for us to learn from. David had been around the track a few times, and they didn’t even have coffee then! We can learn from him how to turn to the Lord in our deepest pit of bad days, overwhelming emotions, and fear, and yet continue to stand firm on Christ the Rock.
Elijah is a rare yet perfect example of the power behind a nap and a snack. This man of God had just participated in a major miracle, seeing God answer his prayer during an “idol competition,” where wicked Ahab was wrongly convinced his idols would show up and provide for the sacrifice. But there was only silence. Then the One True God, Elijah’s God, came in a fiery flood of power and put everyone to shame. We’d assume that Elijah would be riding that high for a while! But evil queen Jezebel did not like how that story went, so she sent a messenger to threaten Elijah with his imminent death. Instead of trusting God to show back up for him as He’d literally just done, Elijah ran away. He fled into the desert and sat down under a tree, where he proceeded to ask the Lord to take his life. This might be the first officially recorded pity party in all of history. (See 1 Kings 19)
But before we slam Elijah too much, let’s take a step back and consider how often we do the same. How frequently do we experience closeness with God, an answered prayer, or some other form of “God moment,” and then immediately fall into a season of doubt or sin?
Thankfully, this story continues to provide the example that God sees and cares for us, even when we’re overreacting. The Lord sent an angel to Elijah, who brought him a freshly baked cake and a jar of water. After he ate, he took a second nap, woke up, ate a second snack, and then went on his way. If you keep reading into 1 Kings 19, you’ll see that Elijah continued to encounter God in amazing ways after his famous nap & snack combo. He wasn’t punished for his burnout; he was taken care of and continued in his purpose.
Shouldn’t we do the same?
Ahh, Job…perhaps the singular book of the Bible that makes us the most uncomfortable because it forces us to ask ourselves the hard question, “what would we do in that situation?”. Job experienced persecution and testing to the extreme yet came out praising God. His whole journey wasn’t quite that simple, though. Job had moments of asking questions, doubting, and seeking bad advice. He lost family, fortune, livestock, and eventually, most of his health before his season of testing was complete.
Job should teach us multiple lessons, including how important it is to choose wise counsel when experiencing trials. If you’re going through a marital struggle, it’s not wise to get help from love-scorned single friends or someone who recently left their spouse for unbiblical reasons. Misery loves company, and even our best friends are capable of misleading us out of pride, fear, or selfishness.
Another lesson from Job is the importance of remembering the truth spoken in Job 1:21 (ESV): "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Everything we have is from Him and never truly our own. When we have that perspective, we hold loosely.
My favorite part of this book is that God didn’t leave Job in his misery—rather, He met him right in the midst of it all. He graciously answered Job, reminding his servant of what Job needed to know the most—Who God was. How omnipresent and omniscient and omnipotent God is! Job was humbled in his conversations with the Lord and repented. God then proceeded to bless and restore to Job all that he had lost, to the other extreme!
What a testimony!
Naomi’s story is found in the book of Ruth. The woman had been through a lot in those opening paragraphs—losing first her husband, then her two sons. Like Job, that’s a significant amount of loss in a small window of time. Not to mention, being a widow in historical times was an even greater hardship than today. Women weren’t protected without a husband and faced great poverty and peril. They didn’t have the same advantages women have today, so the loss was two-fold. Loss of love and loss of security. Losing her sons made it a triple whammy because now they weren’t there to care for her.
Naomi shows her discouraged state in Ruth 1:12-13 (ESV): "Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.”
She felt like the Lord had come against her. I’m sure we all relate to this on some level, at some point. Finances crash, marriage shatters, children go astray…life is hard. It’s easy to think we’re not blessed or favored by the Lord when tough seasons roll in.
But the rest of this book is fascinating in how Naomi’s story plays out through Ruth and Boaz…including the fact that Jesus Christ came from that very lineage. Naomi’s pain, while valid and real, was temporary. And because of Ruth’s faithfulness and the Lord working in all their lives, Naomi became a part of a blessing bigger than she could have ever imagined. God was there all along, working behind the scenes for a greater good than they’d ever dared to dream. We’d be wise to take the same mindset of faith and hope, remembering that when relationships are strained, grief is loud, and futures feel uncertain, we have a loving Father hard at work, writing the end of the story.
Check out the FREE Christian Natural Health Podcast that teaches you about natural health from a biblical perspective. Join Dr. Lauren Deville, a practicing naturopathic physician in Tucson, AZ. In this podcast, she and her guests cover topics ranging from nutrition, sleep, hormone balancing and exercise, to specific health concerns like hair loss, anxiety, and hypothyroidism. Listen to all the episodes for FREE at LifeAudio.com. Click the play button below to hear her episode on burnout and mindfulness:
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Betsy St. Amant Haddox is the author of over twenty romance novels and novellas. She resides in north Louisiana with her hubby, two daughters, an impressive stash of coffee mugs, and one furry Schnauzer-toddler. Betsy has a B.A. in Communications and a deep-rooted passion for seeing women restored to truth. When she’s not composing her next book or trying to prove unicorns are real, Betsy can be found somewhere in the vicinity of an iced coffee. She is a regular contributor to iBelieve.com and offers author coaching and editorial services via Storyside LLC.