Warning! Burnout Ahead

Anyone whose primary activities involve personal relationships is a prime candidate for burnout.

Joy Rice Martin is editor of Joyful Woman. This article was adapted from the March/April 2012 issue of Joyful Woman.

“Who gets to smell the roses?” snarls a harried pastor’s wife. “All I smell is burnt rubber and hot brakes as I race from one crisis to the next.”


Anyone whose primary activities involve personal relationships is a prime candidate for burnout—pastors, physicians, nurses, counselors, teachers, and, of course, mothers. That often puts many women at triple risk since they wear so many hats. For example, without a multi-gifted pastoral staff, the pastor’s wife often finds herself counseling, helping direct the Christian education ministry, entertaining out-of-town guests, teaching a children’s Bible class, and singing in the choir, to say nothing of trying to be a Proverbs 31 wife and mother. These are the same women that are often homeschooling their children, teaching in the Christian dayschool, or working at a secular job to help supplement the family’s income.


God does not hold you accountable to keep six plates spinning at once like a juggler in a carnival. Remember that Jesus told Martha, “Thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part” (Luke 10:41, 42, KJV). In other words, any project or relationship that distracts us from “that good part”—our fellowship with God—is second-best.

My husband, Roger, and I try to remind each other, “Don’t sweat the little things.” What are “the little things”? We answer ourselves, “Most things are really little things.” Remember that God and people are always more important than things and schedules. Often interruptions are opportunities in disguise.


1. Learn to say “No.” When asked to do something, consider carefully before you answer. Is this really God’s will or am I feeling pressure to conform to someone’s expectation?

2. Practice delegating. Teach your children to take regular responsibilities. Encourage other ladies in the church to lead in areas they are gifted for. Don’t think you have to do it all.

3. Stop striving for perfection. Some things aren’t worth your “best” effort. You are human, and it is all right to let some things go. What is important to you, to your husband, and to your children? Will it really matter if you don’t get the floor mopped today?

4. Reduce your expectations of others. Even Christians can be picky, critical, sarcastic, lazy, and backbiting— remember the Corinthian Christians? So lay aside your clipboard of expectations, your hidden agendas for improvement, your attempts to be an “assistant Holy Spirit.” Let God be God and people be people. Love them where they are and pray for them. Only God can change them.

5. Take care of your health. Check up on your eating habits. Take time every day for exercise. (Walking is my physical and mental therapy.) Visit your doctor if you continue to have physical symptoms. Statistics show that even adults need eight to nine hours of sleep a night. Stop saying “I can’t change,” and see what lifestyle changes God wants you to make.

6. Set aside one day a week for rest. The creation principle shows that God designed us to function best with at least one day out of every seven for rest and for fellowship with God and other Christians. Learn to take mini-breaks throughout the week. Meditate on Scripture, drink some refreshing fruit juice, play the piano for fun, read a sweet story, dream about a favorite vacation place.

God is still in control, and the world will not fall apart if you take a nap. Yes—and please stop and smell the roses!

Sidebar: Warning Signs of Stress

• Extreme lassitude or hyperactivity. Either one feels sluggish and drained or super-revved to the point of explosion.

• Irritability.

• Low tolerance for loud noises, sudden movements, minor frustrations of life. Warning Signs of Stress

• Frequent unexplained physical complaints: headaches, stomachaches, backaches, heart palpitations, dizziness, menstrual difficulties.

• Sleep disturbances: insomnia, nightmares, or any change in sleep patterns.

• Loss of interest in normal activities and pleasures.

• Feelings of hopelessness and despair; spells of weepiness.

• Sexual dysfunction: diminished sexual desire and response.

• Difficulty concentrating and memory loss.

• Low self-worth with accompanying feelings of failure and guilt.

• Feeling that God is far away.