Spiritual burnout: what it is and how to handle it in medical missions.

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Spiritual burnout is real. When it comes to spiritual burnout and medical missions, you must understand a few things in order to be faithful in your calling. In this post, I want to look at what spiritual burnout is, how you can know when you’re experiencing burnout, what to do when you’re experiencing burnout, and some tips and resources to help you get through burnout and be even more faithful in your calling on the other side. 

What is spiritual burnout?

Is something wrong with me? Here’s the answer: no. You are normal! Very normal. In fact, everyone goes through seasons of ups and downs—especially as it relates to medical missions. Burnout is a natural part of our journey with Jesus. So, it’s a natural part of your life and calling in serving Him. 

Is it due to sin? No. Life is stressful and filled with burdens. However, it doesn’t mean that spiritual burnout is due to some hidden sin in your life. Those are two different things.

So what is it? According to Vantage Point Recovery, burnout is generally considered a state of physical or emotional exhaustion from ongoing stress. Spiritual burnout is particularly common with healthcare missionaries. There are often long hours required, along with the intense emotional drain involved with seeing patients and difficult cases. This combination of stressors (both physical, emotional, and spiritual) make medical missionaries a particularly high-risk group for burnout. If and when you experience burnout from time to time, here are a few things you should know—both in order to help yourself—and help others you might be serving alongside.

How do you know when you are experiencing burnout?

It’s important to be self-aware when it comes to exhaustion and burnout. 

Don’t try to push exhaustion aside. As a leader, be sure to recognize when you are struggling or have times of extreme tiredness. It could be several days or even weeks, but be sure you’re listening to your body on some level to know when you’re not yourself. 

Another area to look at is your relationships. Is there unresolved tension or friction with people in your life? These are probably signs that you are experiencing some kind of fatigue or burnout as well. Take stock in your relationships with family, friends, those you are serving with. It’s important to consider how you are handling things in your calling. 

Lastly, in order to know when you’re experiencing burnout, it’s vital to recognize that there is a stigma to burnout. Don’t let the stigma of mental healthcare keep you from seeking help. As a leader, ask for help when you need it. Actually, ask for help before you need it! It isn’t “weak” to seek out help. There is a reason the Bible points us toward relationships and mentorship. It is vital to seek out supportive, non-judgemental relationships when it comes to your area of service in missions. 

What to do when you are experiencing burnout.

I have a few things for you to consider when it comes to experiencing burnout. There are some things that you should try to help with burnout as you are walking through it. And, over time, these are tips that should help you not experience burnout in the future. 

For example, do you have healthy rhythms in your life? My guess is you’re overworked. Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t be dealing with burnout. So, be sure to keep up with what you are eating, drinking, how are you sleeping, how your stress levels are. Yes, these are things you know and probably teach others about often. But, with your heart, mind, and time on others, you have probably neglected yourself in many ways over a span of years. So, as you look back, what do you need to change in your habits? Are there gaps in your taking care of yourself physically over the last months or years? How can you prioritize your health more? 

Next, beyond healthier habits, you should learn the art of saying no. Remember, it doesn’t make you more spiritual to say yes to everything. With God’s call on your life, be sure you are using your time wisely to do the things that are passions in your life. Guilt cannot determine your life. Guilt, when you’ve done something wrong, is good and helpful. Guilt when you just feel like you “should” do this or that can and will often lead to burnout.

Finally, you’ll want to establish proper boundaries in your life and work. Protect your spiritual life by putting healthy boundaries in place. This is more than just saying no, it’s also knowing the things in your life that drain you. It is not allowing people and commitments to drive your life, but instead, driving your own life. It’s important that you understand your limits. You can help a ton. But, you can’t help everyone at all times. Do what you need to do in order to get yourself healthy again—so you can serve others well. Part of being a faithful servant is understanding it’s a marathon not always a sprint. Just in case you need it, here is a good resource to help you as well. It discusses how medical missionaries can be resilient and faithful in their calling.

So, we understand that spiritual burnout and medical missions is real. We covered what spiritual burnout is, how you can know when you’re experiencing it, what to do when you’re experiencing it, and some tips and resources to help you get through burnout in missions. My hope is that you will learn and be ready to help yourself and others as it relates to spiritual burnout. This way, you’ll be even more faithful in your calling to missions.

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