In the past few months I have had similar conversations with colleagues who range in age from early 30s to early 60s. In one way or another each was describing burnout. By the way, I have about one such conversation per month with colleagues across the country. The conversation usually begins something like this, “George, I know we haven’t talked in a long time but I once heard you say that you have struggled with depression or panic attacks or burnout or something? At the time I first heard it I admit I thought it was a sign of weakness, but now I am there. Will you share with me what you found helpful?”
Recently at General Assembly a good friend and more experienced pastor than I pulled me aside and said, “George, I am at a place emotionally where I have never been before, and I am scared to death.” Though my conversations have mostly been with pastors, I suspect that this may be a common experience for many men and women. So I wanted to broach the subject and pass along insights as I get them. Today I will just share one aid I found yesterday as I was going back through John Newton’s letters to John Ryland, Jr. By the way, I go back through books in order to record in my Bible new light they bring on certain Scriptures—a practice I would commend—but don’t leave such a Bible on top of your car (I’ll tell you that one later!). Newton had this to say to Ryland early in his ministry:
I have occasionally heard sad tales of you that the loudness, length and frequency of your public discourses you are lighting your candle at both ends. I cannot blame your zeal, you serve a good master, who is well worthy you should spend and be spent for his sake. You have likewise a sense of the worth and danger of souls, and this makes you earnest and importunate. Perhaps you think you are immortal till your work is done (which I shall not dispute) and therefore think it is less needful to be careful yourself. However as the Lord usually works by means, if it is his pleasure to prolong your life for the good of many, he will perhaps dispose you to listen to a world of advice on this head.
I should account him more generous than prudent, who to show his heartiness in entertaining his friends should in the course of one year, exhaust an estate which if properly managed might have supplied him and them for 40 years to come. Your case is something similar. You are young, hardly attained yet your constitutional strength, and perhaps if you over exert yourself at this period of life you never may. I fear unless you can restrain yourself you are laying a foundation for an early old age, and distressing bodily complaints, and that for every sermon you preach or have preached before you are 21, especially if you speak loud and long, you will hinder yourself preaching ten hereafter. I say your desire is good but you need a bridle, or you will soon unfit yourself for public usefulness.
Stewarding your personal life well is ultimately a selfless act for Christ and the people he has given you to serve.