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Battling Burnout as a Pastor’s Wife

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We’ve all had those days. You know, the ones where you crawl into bed, makeup still on, wondering if it’s okay not to brush your teeth just this once. All the while, you wonder what actually happened to the minutes that evaporated into history.

There have been plenty of days like that for me, particularly as a young mom. But even now, when “new season” after “new season” seems to steamroll over me, I ask: Where is the time going? When do I get to catch my breath? I don’t have anything left to pour out or give to all the needs and cries for help around me. God, what does faithfulness look like when I feel so empty?

Sometimes, the old adage “The days are long but the years are short” begins to feel more like “The days are long and the years are long.”

What do we do as pastor’s wives when the never-ending demands pummel us? In many ways our calling is the same as every Christian’s—we’re to take up our cross daily, and follow him (Luke 9:23). And often the cross we bear is a call to give out of poverty, not abundance.

Filled While Empty

While teaching his disciples one day in the temple, Jesus used a curious example of godly giving:

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41–44)

This widow—likely lonely and rejected by her society—gave everything she had. She held nothing back, entrusting herself to the Lord.

Do you live like that with your time and energy? Do you pour yourself out like a drink offering for him, striving after eternal things, like people’s souls? Do you surrender precious extra time with your husband to free him up to minister to others?

I don’t intend to encourage a reckless kind of sacrifice that leads to utter burnout, bitterness, and exhaustion, which is a genuine possibility for those in full-time, vocational ministry. I’m simply asking us to look deep into our hearts and examine our own expectations and perceived limitations.

So often I’ve dreaded some commitment we made only to find that we received more than we gave.

There’s nothing quite like watching God work through your life when you bring absolutely nothing to the table. Those times strengthen our faith as we watch his strength supernaturally infuse us. So often I’ve dreaded some commitment we made only to find that we received more than we gave. I can’t begin to count the times I’ve watched God bless others through me when I felt absolutely incapable of loving or caring for a sister in need. In fact, it’s often been my tears of exhaustion and discouragement, more than wise words, that encouraged someone on a good day.

How many times has the Lord encouraged me as I sat and listened to a friend when I selfishly wanted someone to listen to my hurts? Every time, I walk away reminded that God is good and everything he has for me is good (Ps. 119:68). Our desperation and lack highlights God’s power and strength. As Paul explained:

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. (2 Cor. 1:8–9)

God uses our weakness as an opportunity to showcase his power.

God’s Word for Empty Souls

But what should we do when our own hearts have turned cold? Where should we turn when we have nothing left to give?

Gratefully, God tells us in his Word. He says, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost (Isa. 55:1). Jesus offers us rest in himself through the comfort we find in his Word.

Too often, we toil in our own strength and then wonder why we’re so exhausted. Like oxygen masks on an airplane, we must attach ourselves to the oxygen of God’s Word before we’re any use to others suffocating on the fumes of this world.

Too often, we toil in our own strength and then wonder why we’re so exhausted.

Sisters, it’s okay to say no to some things in order to be alone with the Lord. We must never neglect our first love for what we perceive to be more important work. To re-energize, take some time in solitude to feast on Scripture, listen to expository sermons, journal about the ways God has provided, or pray through the rumblings of your soul. Striving for balance requires wisdom from the Holy Spirit.

Crawling to Glory

If you feel you can’t walk today, are you crawling toward heaven? Are you reaching your hands upward while grabbing a church member along the way, trusting God’s grasp will pull them along too? He’s strong enough, you know. In times of discouragement and exhaustion, we’re so prone to forget his past faithfulness. As the hymn says, we’re “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” But the next line is an invitation to trust him: “Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it. Seal it for thy courts above.”

But what if you’re so depleted you can’t even crawl? Burnout and depression are real problems that demand attention and often outside help. But as best you can, make sure not to confuse this feeling with the day-to-day struggles of the Christian life. Our exhaustion and poverty of spirit can be met with the best kind of exchange: our burdens for his yoke. There, we’ll rediscover his yoke is easy and light, and we’ll find rest for our souls (Matt. 11:28–30).

So, the next time you crawl into bed, fully clothed with makeup still on, wondering what happened to your day, remember the widow. I’ve often wondered how many times she gave all she had and trusted God to meet her needs. Pray for opportunities to walk by faith, knowing he will provide. But don’t stop there. Remember the Lord’s faithfulness in your own life. What he calls you to, he’ll equip you to handle in his strength.

And sister, you know from the track record of your own life that he’ll certainly provide.


Editors’ note: This article originally appeared at 9Marks.

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