It wasn’t the first time I’d heard it. In fact, it was something I’d been told quite a bit as a pastor. “I feel dead on the inside.” It’s voiced by new Christians and seasoned Christians alike. I’ve said it a surprising amount of times. You don’t see it coming typically. It seems to just happen. The energy-intellectual, emotional, spiritual, or physical-isn’t there like it used to be.
So what do you do when you feel dead on the inside? What do you say to your loved ones when they feel this way? I’ve found that people who reflect on the following 10 diagnostic questions find the life and energy they’ve been missing more quickly and deeply than those that don’t. The way you answer these questions will determine what steps you need to take next.
- How Life-Giving Is Your Devotional Life? Every Christian goes through seasons where their devotional life is incredibly life-giving and seasons where it’s a bit dry. In a dry season, you open the Bible or start to pray, but nothing seems to happen. You don’t leave more encouraged and aware of God’s gracious purposes for you and presence with you today. You don’t walk away with a humble confidence as you face your problem filled day. Unfortunately, you feel just like you did before—weary. When a dry devotional life becomes the norm, burnout is typically not far ahead.
- How Often Are You Asking God For Help? Every Christian knows that they should pray, but most don’t. As they find themselves feeling more and more discouraged, rarely do they ask God for help more and more. It’s weird that when many people feel their greatest need for help, when they feel their weakest, they don’t ask for help. Is any of this true of you? If you aren’t asking for help from God, then you’re not accessing all of the resources available to you. If you aren’t accessing the divine resources available to you, then you’re looking for divine help from people and places that aren’t able to provide it—including yourself. Be on the lookout for a lack of prayerfulness as you diagnose your struggle.
- How Much “New” Are You Facing? It always takes more energy to start something new than it does to do what you’ve always done. It could be a new job, a new project, a new schedule, new city, new relationship, or anything else that takes you out of your comfort zone. Too much “new” at one time raises your chances for burnout.
- How Wisely Are You Managing Your Energy? Everything you do takes energy, but some projects take more energy than they should. There are places that you spend your energy that actually give energy back, energizing you. There are other areas that you have to use your energy that don’t energize you. In fact, they take disproportionate amount of energy. We all have to work on projects that don’t energize us, but you can’t do it too long without facing some serious problems.
- How Much Are You Worrying? One of the greatest ways to put a choke hold on your soul is to worry. While worry can indicate that you care, it can also be evidence that you don’t trust God. In order to worry, you have to believe that you know what’s best. Worry happens when human beings try to act like divine beings without divine abilities. You think you know what “should” happen in this conversation, on that project, with this problem, and all the rest—but you don’t have the ability to make it happen. The longer you believe in your “I know what’s best for me now and in the future” enough to worry, the more you will increase the possibility of burnout.
- How High Are Your Expectations For The People And Projects In Your Life? The higher your expectations are for the people and projects in your life, the greater your potential for disappointment. Disappointment often comes simply from unmet unrealistic expectations that are put on people and projects. Beware of setting divine sized expectations on human sized people and projects or you’ll end up burning yourself out while blaming others.
- How Much Time Is Spent In False Refuges? When the world seems overwhelming, you will look for refuge. These refuges aren’t physical. These are places where you take your mind and heart for relief and life. Some of you will look for refuge in a screen, others in drugs and alcohol, or perhaps in some routine. Whatever the refuge—and there are many more—it’s important to realize that there’s no life in them. The more you look for a life-giving refuge in the places and people that can’t provide it, the closer you’ll get to burnout.
- How Wise Has My Stewardship Been of My Body? – Christians often overlook the importance of taking care of their bodies. When you’re down in the dumps, many times there are negative physical factors at play. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you getting enough exercise? Are you eating well? If you’re on medication, have you been taking it? There are a lot of complicated aspects to living life, but this isn’t one of them. If you don’t take care of your body, you’ll increase your chances for discouragement and burnout.
- How Are You Using Your Words? Your words are a good indicator of where your heart is and we’re it’s headed. They’re a good indicator of what you’re dwelling on and will be dwelling on. If you are criticizing people consistently, you’re heart is probably in a bad place and will stay in a bad place. Sure, we live in a broken world with broken people. There’s a lot of stuff to criticize. It’s easy for the cynical and almost burned out to criticize. It comes natural. Constructing and encouraging comes form a heart that has life in it. Beware of the ways your words are revealing and leading your heart.
- How Often Are You Gathering With God’s People? Everybody knows that worship attendance is down. Many people talk about gathering with God’s people for worship like it’s not designed by God to be a unique part of their spiritual growth. I don’t think God sees it this way. There is something mysteriously glorious that happens when God’s people gather to lift up the name of Christ. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that while worship attendance is down, burnout and weariness is up. Sure, there are other factors. But it’s biblically naïve to argue that this isn’t a key factor. Don’t neglect the regular means of grace without expecting a negative impact on your heart’s health.
These diagnostic questions aren’t the end of the restorative journey, they’re the beginning. In order to take those next steps, I’ve found several habits helpful that I’ll share in the next post.