Occupational burnout has become the buzzword of many professionals today, but what is it and how can people recover?
Albrecht Dürer is perhaps most famous, at least among Christian circles, for his pen-and-ink drawing Betende Hände, or Praying Hands.
In Nuremberg, Dürer’s house has been preserved with a selection of his paintings on exhibition. They are noteworthy because he integrated incredible amounts of detail into the larger pieces, most of which would not have been visible while they hung from a high ceiling or over an altar in a church.
His meticulous drawings, paintings and engravings exerted huge influence on many of the artists who succeeded him, and he’s known as one of the great renaissance masters. Among historians, it’s considered something of a pity that Dürer and his wife never had children, effectively ending his family line.
It’s a shame illness kept him from painting much in the later years of his short life. Too bad he wasn’t able to pass his skills along to the next generation so we could have more.
Pity he didn’t live more, accomplish more, make more.
Running on the Social Treadmill
In a Buzzfeed article, one writer explains how shifting social and economic trends have changed the way the Millennial generation can play the game of life.
These days, very few people expect to show up at an interview with a diploma, actually get the job and then keep it until they retire at 55 years old. Workers are increasingly expected to enter the workforce experienced and specialized. Graduate degrees used to be almost exclusively for doctors and professors; but Forbes noted that since 2000 the number of people earning their master’s has increased by 60 percent and those getting doctorates by 49 percent.
Also, it apparently isn’t good enough to just have a job that pays the bills anymore. Suddenly, you need a cool job that you are passionate about, ideally with positive social impact and a low environmental footprint.
All of this pressure to be optimal and “life your best life now” back-fired, however.
If you didn’t manage to get that ideal job, then you are a failure. Risk management has begun to transfer from business policy to the predominant strategy for personal life.
“’Branding’ is a fitting word for this work, as it underlines what the millennial self becomes: a product. And as in childhood, the work of optimizing that brand blurs whatever boundaries remained between work and play. There is no ‘off the clock’ when at all hours you could be documenting your on-brand experiences or tweeting your on-brand observations.
“The rise of smartphones makes these behaviors frictionless and thus more pervasive, more standardized.
“But the phone is also, and just as essentially, a tether to the ‘real’ workplace. Email and Slack make it so that employees are always accessible, always able to labor, even after they’ve left the physical workplace…”
More than ever, the dominating mentality is that we must do more, work harder, have more noteworthy moments in order to justify our work, our rest, our lives.
The Fear of Our Tomorrows
David Wilkerson noted this mounting trend of burnout with the younger generation in a 2006 sermon, nearly 13 years before the World Health Organization officially acknowledged it as a psychosomatic syndrome.
Even then, he accurately put his finger on the heart of this pervasive social problem and its potential cure.
“Right now, the church is in a time like none other in history. It is a time of great doctrinal disarray, with the materialistic culture of the world creeping in. God’s people are being taught to dream big dreams, plan for greatness, think big, ‘go for the gold.’ Many Christian parents feel pressured to map out their children’s careers, fearful for their futures if they don’t.
“Tragically, this has produced a generation of youth so driven to succeed that they’re stressed out, distressed and burning out.
“These kids have been sent a message that they can never have enough. As a result, some have gone to extremes, drinking and partying as if everything will come crashing down tomorrow. Many have become overachievers who take prescription drugs to calm their nerves as they try to meet impossible standards. Meanwhile, ordinary kids with simple dreams are made to feel on the losing end, unable to measure up.
“All have been instilled with a fear of tomorrow.”
“How did this come about? How did it become the legacy of a generation of older Christians who have known God’s faithfulness? These older believers know God has taken care of them up to now. Why wouldn’t he be faithful to care for their children?”
David’s solution is based on Paul’s instructions in Philippians. “Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless” (Philippians 2:16 NLT).
“Scripture says on that day our eyes will be opened, and we’ll behold the Lord’s glory…. Our hearts will be set on fire as he opens all the mysteries of the universe and shows us his power behind it all. Suddenly, we’ll see the reality of all that had been available to us in our earthly trials: the power and resources of heaven, the protective angels, the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit.
“As we behold the awesomeness of these things, the Lord will say to us, ‘You never had any reason to fear your tomorrows.’”
A Promise of Provision and Purpose
Albrecht Dürer’s father was a goldsmith who was deeply displeased with his son’s career choices and died before his son achieved fame.
For much of his life, Dürer remained painfully aware of his public image and artistic genius. His most famous self-portrait was deliberately intended to evoke the religious images of Christ, and he struggled bitterly against low productivity thanks to his failing health in later years.
Despite regularly painting biblical figures and scenes, religion rarely seemed to feature in Dürer’s private interests until he was introduced to Martin Luther’s passionate defense of a personal relationship with God.
Near the end of his life, he wrote, “And God help me that I may go to Dr. Martin Luther; thus I intend to make a portrait of him with great care and engrave him on a copper plate to create a lasting memorial of the Christian man who helped me overcome so many difficulties.”
Though we cannot know for sure, it seems that Dürer discovered an important truth late in life through this seminal figure of the Protestant Reformation.
Only within God’s promises of provision and purpose do we find peace.