Carrie Soukup discusses how to deal with the guilt, trial, and opportunity of religious burnout.
I came into spiritual direction complaining of all the prayerful religious obligations and work I felt obliged to do every day – not only was it a weight, it was nearly impossible. The response I received was unexpected.
Are you experiencing religious burnout? Feel like you lost your spark? Maybe you are tired of going to church event after church event, of being the only one who holds together a certain ministry. Maybe you are short on time and everything feels like it is dragged out too long. Or, you’ve been doing the same thing with a group of friends forever and they want to keep going but you see no new joy. Perhaps your inbox is so full of “amazing” opportunities to get to know God that you have become bored with the whole idea. Or maybe you have dragged your family through the same mealtime grace a million times and it does not feel meaningful.
Do any of these things sound familiar?
Let me tell you a bit of positive news.
There are so many good strong wonderful people who experience this. God is not surprised or scared about your feelings. He is right there with you in the midst of it. Jesus has the solution to your trouble and will guide you in to a future full of hope. Perhaps he is even guiding you at this very moment. Do not fear.
There are many many reasons for feeling unmotivated, sad, slow or burnt out. I know that personally, for a person who has committed her life to Christ, this burnout is a huge burden to carry. Before jumping to negative actions like being filled with guilt, dropping out of your faith, or continuing on the path full of resentment, let’s consider a few positive possibilities.
Could it be an indicator of other areas God would like to heal?
Our behaviors and feelings do not always have a one-to-one correspondence. You may be feeling this religious burn out because there is something else in your life that is bothering you. The other day, I came home from work and walked into the kitchen, grabbing a handful of pretzels, nibbling at the spring rolls my daughter was making, and heading to the fridge to see what else I could snag. All of this before I even put my bag down! Then I realized that I wasn’t hungry at all: I was just cold.
Perhaps the yuckiness you feel surrounding church things is actually related to something else. Maybe even something with a very direct solution (like getting more sleep or fresh air).
Could it be an opportunity for to grow your faithfulness?
God floods us with consolations and warm feelings in some parts of our lives when he knows we need that in order to draw close to Him – to become wholesome. At other times, these feelings and consolations are farther apart and we are left with the opportunity to love “no matter what,” as God does. We can love God through our religious activities as a faithful friend and in the process, we become more beautiful.
Mother Teresa comes to mind for many of us. She experienced much sadness in the midst of her ministry and prayer. What she heard God saying was a request of her – come be my light. She continued on in the emotionally difficult and dull work in order to love God with all her being – in order to be his light.
God might be calling you to something new!
There are all sorts of stages God brings us through and the idea that we should keep all the same ways of loving and serving Him throughout our whole life is a little like saying you will do gymnastics your whole life, or like thinking that CandyLand is the game you have to play every weekend. Carmelite mystics like St. Teresa of Avila have noted the various ways God works in a soul through out the journey to heaven. To maintain what is old when the Holy Spirit is calling for something new is actually to go backwards.
A very close person in my life used to be involved in all sorts of ministries, worship events, and outreaches. At some point, she stopped being able to do the kind of Bible study and imaginative prayer which she was used to. A very good spiritual director helped her to see that God was moving her from a stage of her activity to a stage of His activity. She let go of most of her church activities and instead focused on letting God act within her. Her daily prayer times became much longer and much less active. While she daily read Scripture, her prayer time was mostly just silence – without even thinking about much at all.
God continued to make her a greater friend to Him and she was open to quietly, patiently, and steadily helping her family along the path to heaven, as God was doing with her.
Advice from My Spiritual Director
Are you wondering what my spiritual director told me when I confessed my burdened feeling of religious practices, he said, “Fantastic! Now is a time for you to know your freedom! The “law” or obligation that you are feeling is self-imposed. Let God fill your heart with love so that everything you do is out of love. Keep in mind the simple precepts the church has for us:
- to attend Mass on Sundays and other holy days of obligation and to refrain from work and activities which could impede the sanctification of those days;
- to confess one's sins, receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation at least once each year;
- to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season;
- to abstain from eating meat and to observe the days of fasting established by the Church.
- to help to provide for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.
Beyond that, let the love you have for God guide you.”
I went home, prayed about it a bit and decided to continue on the same path, keeping the same practices, yet without the taskmaster attitude I had carried on myself before. I let the things I did be acts of love, not chains around my neck. That was the grace I was given at that moment.
Grace for you at this moment
The grace and advice for you may be very different. It is a matter of discernment. What advice would you give yourself? Drop it in the comments and we all could benefit!
Copyright 2021 Carrie Soukup
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About the Author
Carrie Soukup writes and teaches courses at GraceFinders.com, to help others connect intimately with God in and through the craziness of life. Author of two books on prayer, she has served as a curriculum writer, campus minister, high school theology teacher, and retreat director. On a great day, you can find her hiking, cycling, or eating chocolate with her husband and four children.