by Paul Pedersen

The burnout grew slowly. It was a general feeling of frustration with my work. As I would drive to work in the darkness of the early morning, I struggled to see the importance of what I was doing. I wanted to quit.

For several years, I have worked full-time at a homeless shelter. This kind of service work can be very rewarding. Every day that I would go to work, I knew that I could make an impact in someone’s life. Yet, service work is notorious for its high rate of burnout. I have worked with people who are struggling with homelessness, drug addictions, evictions, criminal histories, and all sorts of family problems. Some people are very grateful for the help, while others are ungrateful and somewhat hostile towards me and the other staff. One day as I was driving up the driveway at work, I saw the faces of the people that were there and I was struck with the feeling of dread. I felt no compassion for them. This is what burnout feels like, I realized. I did not even want to go inside the shelter. I prayed for help. Over time God gave me a renewed compassion for the clients that I worked with.

God calls each of us to serve others. When we surrender our lives to Christ, He re-creates us to be His hands and feet, leading those around us to come to know Him. Even more, from the time that we accept Christ into our hearts, God places within us a compassion for others. Yet, sometimes this compassion can grow cold. Here are some key ways to renew your compassion to serve others.

Overcome burnout through remembering God’s love.

A Christian’s motivation to serve is entwined in the love of God for the lost. The Bible says that God is love. It also says that if we do not love, we do not know God. This scripture in 1 John 4:8 always challenges me. When I look around and see people struggling, how can I not want to help them? When we lose sight of the love of God, it is important to remember that God is love. If we love God, we will also love others. We should all strive to be like Jesus who preached to the poor, healed the brokenhearted, brought liberty to the captives, and brought sight to the blind. This was Jesus’ example how to reach the lost through compassionate service.

Overcome burnout through the Holy Spirit’s reinvigoration.

Burnout can feel like you’re dragging weights behind you. Your legs can feel heavy after a while. To reinvigorate means to add energy or strength. Some individuals are naturally reinvigorated by being around other people; it might help them to be around friends who do not want anything from them. For other individuals, it helps to get alone and take a moment and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. For both introverts and extroverts, we should all take time out of our busy schedule to seek God in prayer. Christ doesn’t expect us to do this kind of work on our own by our own strength and power. According to Acts 1, before we became His witnesses, we needed the power of His Spirit. Our source of reinvigoration is God’s Spirit. This comes by surrendering to Him and allowing Him to fill us.

Overcome burnout through rest in Christ.

Burnout can break the mind and body down. Stress can and will impact the body. People can actually break out in hives due to stress.[ref]”Stress Hives,” accessed February 10, 2015,[/ref] Our bodies need physical rest. In social work, we call this self-care. We need to be eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep. Everything that I read about mental health says that these are all very important. They are so basic, yet we seem to avoid them regularly. If an airplane is depressurizing, who is the first person that we are supposed to put an oxygen mask on? Ourselves. In order to continue in compassionate service, we need to avoid burnout. To overcome burnout, we need to be using healthy life practices. This is one additional blessing that comes from regularly keeping the Sabbath rest.

There is also a greater kind of rest – resting in the Lord. Psalm 37:7 says, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.”[ref]KJV[/ref] The word rest here carries the idea of being still and waiting on God. A similar concept is found in Isaiah 40:31, which declares, “But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength…They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.”[ref]NKJV[/ref] All too often in helping others, we stress out about how we can help someone succeed. Yet, God wants us to simply trust in Him to meet their needs. Often, when I council homeless people, I will pray a simple prayer for wisdom. God has never failed me in those moments.

True compassion in everyday leadership.

God has called all of us to be compassionate in our everyday leadership and service of others. This compassion asks for no reward. True compassionate service can very easily lead to burnout, but it does not have to. Serve others compassionately! As you do, remind yourself of God’s love, reinvigorate yourself in God’s Spirit, and rest in Him.