As you evaluate your own life, remember: God knows where you are. Although we don’t know where God is and we may not even know where we are, God knows our exact location, direction, and destination. Just like a child on a long car journey, we don’t need to know where we are as long as Dad knows.
This post is adapted from Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture by David Murray.
Burnout Warning Signs
Our cars have warning lights that we can look up in our owner’s manual. But what do the “warning lights” look like for men? What are the danger signs that our present pace may prematurely end our race?
Here’s a checklist arranged in categories. Whereas the physical category had the most ticks for me, for you it might be the emotional, mental, or another category. God has designed us all differently and knows which warning lights will best get our attention. But as some of us can’t (or won’t) see warning lights, even when all of them are flashing red and blue right in front of our eyes, why not ask your wife or a friend to go through these lights with you and give you a more objective outsider’s viewpoint?
Physical Warning Lights
- You are suffering health issues one after another. Seventy-seven percent of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, including headaches, stomach cramps, achy joints, back pain, ulcers, breathlessness, bad skin, an irritable bowel, tremors, chest pains, or palpitations.1
- You feel exhausted and lethargic all the time, lacking energy or stamina for sports or playing with your kids.
- You find it difficult to sleep, you wake up frequently, or you wake up early and can’t get back to sleep. Maybe you can identify with my friend Paul’s nightmare: “Then came the insomnia. Killer insomnia. Like all night. Then another night. I was panicking. What on earth was going on with me? I went to my doctor. He gave me some heavy-dose, prescription sleep aids. It worked like a peashooter on a tank.”
- You are following the example of a young entrepreneur who admitted to me, “I used my lack of sleep to justify sleeping in later, which only perpetuated that poor sleep cycle.”
- You are like one pastor who confessed to me that “my excessive sleeping was simply an escape.”
- You are putting on weight through lack of exercise or eating too much junk food, or you are drinking too much alcohol or coffee.
Mental Warning Lights
- Concentration is hard; distraction is easy.
- You think obsessively about certain difficulties in your life. Jim described it to me like this: “Even little things began to fall on me with great weight. I would try to put them out of my mind, but it was like my brain was stuck. The thoughts kept spinning over and over. Nothing new was added to the process, no new solutions, no new information. Just the same cycle.” Another man said it was like “trying to swat mental flies.”
- You forget things you used to remember easily: appointments, birthdays, anniversaries, phone numbers, names, deadlines, etc.
- You find your attention drawn to negative subjects, and you are developing a hypercritical and cynical spirit.
- Your brain feels fried.
Emotional Warning Lights
- You feel sad, maybe so sad that you have bouts of weeping or feel you are on the verge of tears.
- It’s been a long time since you had a good laugh or made someone laugh. Instead, there’s emotional numbness.
- You feel pessimistic and hopeless about your marriage, children, church, job, nation, etc.
- Worry stalks your waking hours and anxiety climbs into bed with you every night.
- As soon as you wake and think about the day ahead, your heart starts pounding and your stomach starts churning over the decisions you face and people’s expectations.
- You find it difficult to rejoice in others’ joy, often forcing yourself to fake it.
- At times, you feel so hopeless and worthless that you think it would be better if you were not here.
Relational Warning Lights
- Your marriage is not what it once was. You don’t delight in your wife as you once did.
- Your sex drive is erratic, as you often feel too tired to have anything but perfunctory, and mainly selfish, sex.
- You are irritable and snappy at your wife and children. They view you as angry, impatient, frustrated, and critical (ask them!).
- You spend limited time with your children, and any time you do spend is interrupted by smartphone use or poisoned by thinking about all the other things you could be doing. A Christian friend admitted that he once started sobbing uncontrollably: “My startled wife asked what was wrong. I was watching my father-in-law play with my children and said to her, ‘I wish I could enjoy them the way he does.’ My own children had become a source of irritation. I envied him. I couldn’t enjoy my own kids. I couldn’t enjoy anything.”
- You avoid social occasions, neglect important relationships, and withdraw from friendships, even with people you care deeply about.
- You frequently lose your temper and are in conflict with various people. One businessman told me that although he had rarely suffered through overwork, “as I have looked back over my life, the times that I have struggled with extended periods of depression have most often had in common that I was really struggling with a relationship. One time it was with my brother, twice it was a romantic relationship, twice it was struggles with my spouse.”