How Nearly Burning Out Made Me Realize I Need to Rest

We went on vacation after I’d been a youth minister for 15 months. I was tired and stressed. I could sense some things needed to change because I was running on fumes.

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The first night of vacation I wrote down a list of rules for myself. There was nothing earth shattering on the list. I felt kind of pathetic, honestly. It was stuff like, “Take a day off every week.” But, I knew I needed to draw a line in the sand.

As memorable as that experience was, finding balance in life is something I’ve had to continually fight for. After coming through another brutal season of life and ministry, I started reading, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown.

“Essentialism” is the best book I’ve read in several years. There’s so much I learned from reading it but the stuff on the essential nature of rest takes the cake. I was reminded, in a powerful way, about these key truths…

1. My brain doesn’t work as well under stress.

Stress increases activity in the part of the brain that controls emotion and reduces activity in the part of the brain that controls cognitive function. Here’s all that means: I don’t think as clearly when I’m stressed.

This statement from Bill Clinton drove this one home for me…

“In my long political career, most of the mistakes I made, I made when I was too tired, because I tried too hard and worked too hard.”

I need to regularly take days of rest. Because, when I don’t, I become increasingly less productive. I also open myself up to the potential of having lapses in judgment. My brain just doesn’t work as well when I’m working seven days a week.

2. Sleep is important.

I have to admit that I’ve felt weak before for being tired. In reality, lack of sleep shouldn’t be a badge of honor. If you need a good night’s sleep to function well, welcome to the club, you’re a human being!

In Bronwyn Fryer’s article, “Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer,” from the Harvard Business Review, he points out that staying up all night or getting several nights of 4-5 hours of sleep in a row causes our brains to function as if we have 0.1% blood alcohol level. It’s — literally — like we’re drunk.

If your work requires you to think, sleep is incredibly important. I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I’ve fought sleep while reading through a commentary as I was preparing to teach. My mind — and my teaching — is so much better when I’m sleeping well.

3. Resting is part of God’s design.

Resting is part of the created order. God rested after creating the world. Israel rested once a week on the Sabbath. Jesus took naps. We were designed by God to rest regularly.

These are universal laws that I’m sometimes tempted to cheat. But, when I cheat, I’m not as good a husband, dad, or minister. When I cheat, I end up tired and stressed. So, it’s irresponsible for me not to rest.

What rules do you have to make sure you stay balanced?

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