The Pastor’s Wife and Burnout

A stress-ridden life is the ideal precursor to burnout

Gloria Trotman, Ph.D., is a retired pastor’s wife of more than forty years. She and her husband, Pastor Jansen Trotman, live in Texas, USA.

Unlike the lyrical grandfather’s clock that “stopped short never to go again when the old man died,” burnout threatens to shut down our physical, mental, spiritual, social, and emotional mechanisms while we are still living. One dictionary definition of burnout is vivid and compelling: “the time when a jet or rocket engine stops working because there is no more fuel available.” Do we allow our fuel to run out? Hawkins, Minirth, Meier, and Thurman describe burnout as “a cluster of symptoms, including emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, or a desire to withdraw from people, and reduced accomplishment (working harder and harder while accomplishing less and less)” (Before Burnout: Balanced Living for Busy People). Burnout and stress are interrelated. Stress results from an accumulation of wear and tear on the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual resources of a person. A stress-ridden life is the ideal precursor to burnout.

• Carrie accepted the responsibility of organizing the baby shower for the new pastor’s wife. She felt physically exhausted and emotionally drained. The result: Two weeks before the shower, Carrie transferred the planning and organizing of the event to another pastor’s wife. Carrie said she was about to “lose it.”

• Melanie’s husband had alerted her that his staff dinner was going to be in two months. They shopped together for a beautiful dress for Melanie. On the evening of the dinner, Melanie broke down uncontrollably in tears. She did not want to attend the dinner.

• Ruth’s deadline for the budget proposal was fast approaching. She had produced many drafts but found difficulty refining and submitting it to her boss. She felt helpless and ineffective as she kept asking for more and more extensions of her deadline.

Carrie, Melanie, and Ruth are all victims of burnout. Were they aware of this? I doubt it. Although some of us recognize the face of burnout when it looms before us, others are taken by surprise. A look at some causes of burnout can put us on the alert.


• A poor work environment. Is your workplace unpleasant? Is the lighting generally poor?

• Faulty equipment. What about the equipment you have to work with? Is your employer faithful in its maintenance? Have you approached him/her about fixing your equipment? Complaining to yourself is not enough.

• Unrealistic deadlines. Are the deadlines unreasonable? Are your colleagues and supervisors demanding?

• Irresponsible workmates. Are your workmates willing to pull their weight? Or are they shirkers?

Taking a close look at these causes, or trying to assess other factors that make your job unnecessarily burdensome, can improve the job experience. You may not be able to improve every circumstance, but you will be able to develop some coping skills. Get help if you feel the need. Your health can be at stake.


• Irritability. You lose your calm, even-tempered disposition. You display resentment of people, the assignment, and the job place. This attitude can threaten your job.

• Loss of creativity. You have no energy or desire to try innovative methods. Your work becomes a carbon copy of old productions.

• General inefficiency. The work presents a basic appearance or tends to be sloppy.

• Diluted commitment to the job. Emotional attachment and loyalty to the job are missing.

• Poor health. You may have headaches or stomachaches as you approach the work site.

• Absenteeism. This usually increases with time, and also threatens job security.

If you are experiencing two or more of these symptoms, you need to take a serious look at yourself. Turn your frustrations over to God (1 Pet. 5:7). Ask yourself if this is the right job for you. Are you pleased with your production?

Develop your organizational skills. Claim God’s promise for efficiency and productivity (Phil. 4:13).


• Work overload. If Mother has to do all the work in the home, in addition to taking care of the children, running errands, preparing meals, and meeting her own engagements, that is an overload.

• Nondelegation of tasks. Call a family conference and delegate chores. Sharing the load is necessary for the smooth running of the family firm.

• Untrained children. Children are sometimes not taught the skills to help. Teach tasks patiently so children may learn to help.

• Domestic chaos. A constant, chaotic environment can foster burnout in the home. Develop organizational skills and manage your time wisely. Have a few simple survival rules.

• Toxic behavior. Fighting, yelling, name-calling, and unkind words are excellent fodder for burnout. Let the spotlight be on love. Create a calm, peaceful atmosphere. Practice affirmation. Play soothing music often. Encourage laughter in the home.

• Overwork. Work at balancing work and family responsibilities. Avoid a crowded plate.

• Scant family devotions. Commit to having regular family devotions. The presence of God and His holy angels brings a sweet peace to the home. “Kindly words simply spoken, little attentions simply bestowed, will sweep away the clouds of temptation and doubt that gather over the soul” (The Adventist Home, p. 485).

Subtle choices can steal our sense of balance and overload our plates. Then we ask ourselves, How did I get so overcommitted? As pastors’ wives we may find ourselves sinking in a quicksand of demands, appointments, and assignments. It took me many years to realize that a person does not have to accept every task. The pastor’s wife does not need to be the emergency fill-in for every no-show. Yes, we ought to do our tasks with excellence, fulfill our responsibilities, and stand willing to help, but we must exercise reason and good judgment.

Here are two personal rules that can defy burnout:

1. “No” is a complete sentence.

2. Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.


A. Physical preparation. “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (Prov. 14:1, NIV).

• Prepare your wardrobe ahead of time. Choosing what to wear can be quite challenging. Try mixing and matching your ensembles, including accessories, in advance. This has worked wonders for me. You will discover how many outfits you really have!

• Learn survival techniques of homemaking. Check home magazines for shortcuts.

• Delegate responsibility to family members. Post chore lists. Even your two-year old can help.

• Eat well. Stop picking at scraps at the kitchen counter while you serve a banquet to your family.

• Sleep and rest well. This will repair you.

• Have an exercise program. Budget at least fifteen minutes a day at least three times a week.

B. Professional preparation. “A gift opens the way and ushers the giver into the presence of the great” (Prov. 18:16, NIV).

• Keep abreast of trends (read journals, attend seminars).

• Network.

• Develop and improve your confidence and skills.

• Approach your task with energy.

• Be trustworthy

C. Social preparation. “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24, NIV).

• Take an interest in your appearance.

• Dress appropriately.

• Hone your social skills.

• Wear a pleasing countenance.

• Refuse to let others make you ugly.

D. Spiritual preparation. “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zech. 4:6, NIV).

• Meet God first in the morning.

• Acquire the habit of praise. (“Seven times a day I praise You.” I use this text, Ps. 119:164, as my literal guide to praise).

• Be a witness.

• Claim God’s promise for peace and endurance.

We are servants of a God who loves us and is mindful of our total wellness. He can give us the will and the wisdom to take care of ourselves. With His help we can choose a life of balance rather than burnout.

Recommended Reading:

Burton, Valorie. How Did I Get So Busy?

Campbell-Slan, Joanna. I’m Too Blessed to Be Depressed.

Harvard Business Review. Work and Life Balance.

Hawkins, Don; Frank Minirth; Paul Meier; and Chris Thurman. Before Burnout: Balanced Living for Busy People.

Hobfoll, Steven E. and Ivonne H. Hobfall. Work Won’t Love You Back.

White, Ellen G. The Adventist Home.