Shauna Niequist is a bookworm, a beach bum, an enthusiastic home cook and a passionate gatherer of people. She is the author of Present Over Perfect, and you can connect with her online at ShaunaNiequist.com.
Three years ago, I stared at the ceiling of a hotel room in Dallas, exhausted. I said to myself, “If anyone wants to live this life I’ve created for myself, they’re more than welcome to try. But I’m done. I need a new way of living.”
I was 36 years old. Aaron and I had been married for 11 years, and we had two boys—a one-year-old and a six-year-old. I was finishing a book, longer than previous ones I’d written, and with recipes this time, which meant that during the weekdays I was writing essays, and in the evenings I tested recipes over and over. On the weekends, often I was traveling, speaking at conferences, retreats, and churches.
In many ways, I loved this life—loved my husband, adored my kids, was so thankful to be a writer. But it’s like I was pulling a little red wagon, and as I pulled it along, I filled it so full that I could hardly keep pulling. That red wagon was my life, and the weight of pulling it was destroying me.
I may not have known it fully then, but after three years of deep reflection, I know it fully now, and I need to let you in on something: You don’t have to sacrifice your spirit, your joy, your soul, your family, your marriage on the altar of ministry.
Just because you have the capacity to do something doesn’t mean you have to do it.
The twin undercurrents of being a woman and being a Christian is sort of a set-up for getting off track with this stuff—women are raised to give and give and give, to pour themselves out indiscriminately and tirelessly. And Christians, or some anyway, are raised to ignore their own bodies, their own pain, their own screaming souls, on behalf of the other, the kingdom, the church
It has been tremendously helpful to think of myself as a part of the kingdom, a part of the church. I am not building the kingdom if that work is destroying this member of that kingdom. If you burned down your garden in order to make more room to host and feed your friends, you would find yourself shortsighted the next time you wanted to feed the people you loved, right?
I set myself aflame as often as necessary, whatever it took to keep going, to build, to help; but I’m learning slowly that wholeness prevails.
As I sit now, the sound of the waves and the boat engines in the distance, the fishermen drifting by the peninsula, the flaking paint on the Adirondack chair on which I sit, I hardly recognize the woman I was for those years, and I breathe a prayer of gratitude for this new way of living. I have been saved, and I feel all the vigor of a zealot, a recent convert.
Burnout is not reserved for the rich or the famous or the profoundly successful. It’s happening to so many of us, people across all kinds of careers and lifestyles.
If you’re tired, you’re tired, no matter what. If the life you’ve crafted for yourself is too heavy, it’s too heavy, no matter if the people on either side of you are carrying more or less. You don’t have to have a public life or a particularly busy life in order to be terribly, dangerously depleted. You just have to buy into the idea that your feelings and body and spirit aren’t worth listening to, and believe the myth that busyness or achievement or both will take away the pain.
And if you, like me, have also internalized some twisted-up theology that this healing and restoration that Jesus offers are not for you, that you’re a server in this great restaurant, a crew member aboard this lovely ship, then you are destined to exhaust yourself, tugging on the bootstraps of your soul, lifting something that was never meant to be carried alone.