Spiritual Burnout can be especially bad around the Holidays, and you may not even know you have it!
Entering the holidays almost always fills us with a mutual sense of excitement and dread. Excitement at the thought of having some time off and enjoying all the sparkly and delicious things we love. It fills us with hopes and expectations of the ideal ways things could go in our minds, but dread at the knowledge that so often we spend every last ounce of our energy trying to realize our perfect dream, but, at the end of the day, nothing really changes and every year we seem to come out of this season “of rest” even more exhausted than before.
To add insult to injury, all the religious people out there are telling us how we are “supposed” to feel about the newborn Baby Jesus. We like the idea and resonate somewhere deep inside with the fact that He is supposed to be the solution to all our problems, but we don’t understand how to practically apply this idea to our lives or how something that happened so long ago could possibly have any kind of tangible impact on us today (besides being the “reason for the season”). After all, what does baby Jesus really have to do with shopping?
As a result, we start to wonder if all the hype is just to make me feel guilty for “not getting it” or just nice talk used to somehow “spiritualize” emptiness. Problem is, it still feels empty, so we chalk it up to a nice story to remember, and quickly revert what we do understand: sweets, sparkly lights, and Christmas Carols.
But it’s not that easy.
People are still people, for better or for worse. Entitlement and expectations have somehow imperceptibly taken control over our lives. Our perfect plans are at the mercy of everyone else’s cooperation (and they practically never do). Despite our best efforts at “good cheer”, we find ourselves dwelling on people we miss, lost childhoods, and holiday weight gain.
All we are left with is a peppermint mocha, and a Hallmark movie, a long bath, and a cozy bed…
At first, there doesn’t seem to be much wrong with this, in fact, it even seems good to us to have something we can “control”, a place of refuge and self-care from the exhaustion and expectations of the holidays.
But, what happens when life doesn’t allow for our increasing need for self-care?
Do we just need to keep shutting more life out to make the time we need? Or is what we need something else entirely?
If you feel that self-care is your only refuge this season, you are spiritually burnt out.
I have come to light a fire on the Earth and how I wish it were already blazing. – Luke 12:49
One Spark – Hope for Spiritual Burnout
One spark is all it takes.
One spark on the right kindling ignites a tiny flame that continues to grow larger with each new blade of dry grass it touches, moving from grass to twigs, then branches, and finally consuming even large logs and even wet material. It doesn’t grow weaker but stronger.
All it requires is the right kind of fuel and a tiny spark.
If you find the holiday festivities empty and draining or your heart feels a bit like a California desert this year, there is nothing wrong with you! In fact, I would agree that you are finally right where you need to be to catch the real spark of Christmas!
Merry and Bright – Spiritual Vibrancy – The Opposite of Spiritual Burnout
What constitutes “spiritual vibrancy”?
Vibrant – adj. “bright, full of energy and enthusiasm” (Oxford Languages)
Does it mean volunteering in ministries, attending religious services and events, heading committees, tithing, preaching on street corners, speaking in tongues, etc, etc, etc…
Well, sort of.
All those things are well and good, but they are simply more meaningless items on a to-do list if we do them from the wrong place of strength. If we do them out of obligation or a sense of pride/self-worth they have no foundation and often become the very source of our resentment, dissatisfaction, and burnout that we were trying so hard to prevent.
So, how do we change this and make sure all those vibrant activities come from an actually vibrant soul?
You will know them by their fruit – Matthew 7:15
We cannot offer vibrant fruit, if we ourselves are not on fire. (And all the tinsel in the world, never lit anyone on fire!)
We cannot give what we do not have.
It is time to seek the true Source of our light.
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life – John 8:12
Now is our moment to drop all the things to go in search of the King.
We have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him. – Matthew 2:2
What do we have to do to Follow a Star?
- We have to see the star – we have to know it is there, beckoning to us, calling us, inviting us to take a journey to a tiny stable in Bethelem
- We have to choose to take the journey – it is a conscious choice that requires intentionality and follow through – fully aware that it will likely change our lives and be met with challenges and opposition
- We have to set out – yes, mount the camel and leave. Follow up our decision with action – and set our face like flint – Isaiah 50:7
1) How to see a star?
We are going to have to eliminate some of the light pollution.
The goal is to find a clear, dark night, free from all things blocking our vision of the stars.
Yes, it may be cold, dark, and uncertain at times, but I must keep my eyes fixed on the star that goes before me. Yes, it will take some time for my eyes to adjust (directly proportionate to how bright it was before), but, my eyes will adjust as long as I give them long enough. Yes, there may be an element of fear of the “dark” but, if we keep our eyes fixed on the light, the fear diminished over time and with maturity, much like a child.
So, I challenge you right now, what are the 3 main, obvious things that are blocking you from being able to see His light this season?
If you don’t know, try asking yourself these questions:
- What is taking away my peace?
- What is making it so I “don’t have time” for prayer?
- What is distracting my ability to focus my energy on going to the manger? (Ie. usually noise and flashyness – often music, movies, advertising, and excessive focus on gifts, cards, décor, parties, or food)
2) Choosing to follow the star
This point is almost annoyingly obvious but likely the most difficult. Christmas is going to happen whether we choose to go to Bethlehem or not… it is up to you to decide if you want to be there or not.
It is here that we actually say, “Yes, I recognize this thing that is distracting my heart and not allowing me a clear vision of the star.” “Yes, I recognize this tradition I love as filling up too much space in my heart and not leaving any room “in my Inn” for Him this Christmas”. What clutter can I clean out? What is the most important thing I need to set aside in order to prioritize Him this year?
Make a list of your top 3 things you will commit to “not doing” this year, in order to focus on your journey to meet the King.
One question to ask yourself if you are having trouble with this is:
Are you mixing up Christmas and Advent? Are you afraid to give up certain things because it means you can “never” have them again? No, don’t forget that this season of Advent is a season of waiting and expectation, for the SEASON of celebration! There is a whole Christmas SEASON coming up BEGINNING on Dec 25 for all the celebrating you can possibly handle! We must take back Advent and live it well so that once the celebrating begins, we truly have something extra special to celebrate!
3) Setting out on the journey
Advent isn’t only about cutting out the light pollution, but rather, most importantly about being a season of pursuit, of preparation for something, no, someONE, we KNOW is coming. We don’t want to merely cut things out, we must replace what we eliminate with truly nourishing alternatives, such as prayer, silence, and study.
- Learn about the purpose and symbolism of the Advent Wreath and how you might practically incorporate it into your family routine.
- Use the Jesse Tree as your advent Bible study (kids or no kids) take the opportunity to learn why each ornament is on the tree (I’ve done this every year for my entire life and I’m still learning new things!)
- Spend conscious extra time in quiet solitude with the Lord.
- Try a centering prayer such as, “Lord, I’m here” and contemplate the purpose and value of presence.
- If you struggle with distraction, try journaling (to slow down and focus your thoughts) or bringing scrap paper to prayer (to write down the inevitable to-dos that will pop up in your mind – so that you don’t have to try to remember them and not let them distract you at the same time).
- If you struggle with stillness – try walking (preferably in nature)
- Contemplate the value of waiting and expectation, darkness and light, beauty, simplicity, humility, and solitude.
- Spend time reading the gospel infancy narratives, using your imagination to put yourself in the scene as tangibly as possible. Memorize your favorite verses, and try to pick out special details you may never have noticed before.
- Choose silence or reflective/prayer/instrumental music over Christmas carols in the car or while doing housework.
- Limit celebratory sweets to the actual season of Christmas. (December 25-January 6 + the 12 days of Christmas)
- Replace a Hallmark movie with a documentary on the Christmas star.
- Don’t spend advent working on your Christmas cards for the year but send them out during the Christmas season instead of during the Christmas season. And don’t apologize for it!
But won’t all this make us different?
Yes. And it will be challenging! The amount of challenge will be directly proportionate to how attached you were to your traditions, your routine, or your comfort zone.
- We are supposed to be the light of the world – Not spiritually burnt out. Being different is what makes us LIGHT!
- If you don’t make a change, everything will go on being the same. You will still feel far from God and it will still feel empty
You might feel “alone” if you’re the only person in your circle that reads this article and wants to do something about it, but you are not alone. I am not just writing this, I am living it and so are hundreds if not thousands more people who want to live their lives on fire, who have tasted the life giving Bread from Heaven and decided to drink Living Water. That said, I know the nebulous cloud of people “out there” don’t always make a difference “in here” (*Points to heart*) so share this article, get other people to join you on this journey. Involve your family. Teach your kids. Ask your Grandparents about their Advents growing up.
We are not meant to be alone. That is the whole purpose of the Church, the Body of Christ. We are a giant accountability group, much like spiritual workout partners. You are NOT alone!
Let’s do this TOGETHER.
Let’s RECOVER ADVENT!
Together let’s stop striving to impress people. Let’s turn off the lights and let our eyes adjust to the dark again so that we can see the stars. Let’s refocus on quiet and contemplation. Let’s study our past and our purpose and fall in love again with the God of the universe who created it for one purpose and one purpose only – to share it with us.
I pray that this year your flame is not extinguished by fear of the darkness or the overwhelming expectations of the season. Instead, I pray that you are literally overcome and engulfed by the intensity and the safety of the Love whom we will find waiting for us in a manger at the end of this journey.