By Nathan Peterson

Is There a Solution to Millennial Burnout?—Rest in a Restless World

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest,” Jesus said.

Peter was the first to nod. “Okay Google/Alexa/Siri, define rest.”

“Sure, according to Merriam-Webster, rest is a bodily state characterized by minimal functional and metabolic activities or, alternatively, peace of mind or spirit.”

“Gotcha, thanks,” Thomas said. “So Google/Alexa/Siri, where can we find rest?”

“There are eight hotels within five miles of your location. Would you like me to book a reservation?”

“Sure. Guys, how many rooms should we get?” Philip asked. “Do you think they have a pool?”   

No, no, that did not happen in the Bible. Thankfully.

But today, in the time it takes for Jesus to quietly, calmly invite us into his rest, we’re peppered with emails, notifications, ads, and reminders that we need to get our steps in for the day. Work meetings, hangouts, projects, and hobbies all scream for our attention, pulling us in dozens of different directions.

“Busy,” “stressed,” and “can’t talk, gotta go” are quickly becoming our default answers to “How are you?” And the busier we are, the more burned-out we get. Some say it’s a millennial thing. Others think it’s mainly work-related. But whether you’re a soccer mom or college student, whether you have a dozen kids or just yourself to take care of, it seems like more and more of us are feeling the effects of burnout. Sometimes, I can almost sense the weight of busyness in the air, pushing us to do more, be more, post more, earn more. It’s beyond exhausting.

So I’m asking, and many of us are asking, “What now? What can we do about it?”

Is there a solution?

No, some people say. “The problem with holistic, all-consuming burnout is that there’s no solution to it,” Anne Helen Petersen writes. “You can’t optimize it to make it end faster. You can’t see it coming like a cold and start taking the burnout-prevention version of Airborne.”

Ouch, so much for finding a silver lining . . .

Others would say things aren’t that bleak. We just need to take a break. Watch a couple shows. Veg out. That does sound slightly more hopeful. But then, of course, there’s the study that discovered that “binge-watching can lower our quality of sleep and increase fatigue, leading to long-term effects such as changes in performance, cognitive thinking, and immune system, and an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.”

And from firsthand experience, I know that “vegging out” doesn’t always work. All too often, it’ll be a lazy Saturday of kicking back and watching movies, and I’ll still have this nagging voice telling me I should be working, that everyone else is judging me, that I’m wasting the day!

In all this talk of a lack of solutions and TV binges, we’ve overlooked one critical thing, a person, actually: Jesus. He’s called the Prince of Peace for a reason. When we turn to him, we find hope and rest for our burned-out, run-down, weary souls.

Finding Real Rest

The more I’ve thought and prayed about this, the more I’ve come to realize that rest is more about a mindset than actually doing something. After all, most of us seem to have a pretty good grip on the whole doing things part—that’s why we’re so burned-out.

I spoke to Carolyn Carney, InterVarsity’s National Director of Spiritual Formation, about this, and she observed:

I think we get caught in this trap of “we are what we do.” I know people who will write things on their “to-do” list that they’ve already finished and then cross them out just so they’ll have a record of their accomplishments. Somehow if I do more, people will see me as valuable, useful, important. I’m allowed to take up space on this earth. I have earned this. We don’t understand grace. Still.

Guilty. I’m definitely a to-do list checker-offer. It’s almost like I subconsciously evaluate what makes for a productive day, what will prove I’ve made a valuable contribution to the world. If I don’t meet that goal, then I’m a failure. I get frustrated and moody. Sometimes even when I’m doing something that’s supposed to be fun, like hanging out with a friend, I feel the weight of not getting things done tugging at me.

One of our other bloggers, Kelly Aalseth, offers a great reminder: “Jesus doesn’t give us rest only when we’ve been successful. Real rest is less about an end of things and more about embracing God’s mercy even when things aren’t completely finished.”

I’m starting to learn about stepping into that tension, of entering into God’s grace right in the middle of all the busyness and to-do lists. Here are a few things he’s shown me so far.

Giving Up Multitasking

I know. I know. These words fly in the face of modern Western culture. Multitasking just makes sense. Helps us be more efficient, get more things done. And I’m all about efficiency. When I get home from the gym, it’s time to cook dinner as fast as possible, put away dishes, figure out the week’s grocery list, do laundry, and scope out that thing on Amazon. Not a second wasted. All in the name of getting all my “chores” done ASAP. So I can veg out, “rest,” do something fun, something I actually want to do.

So what’s the problem with all that? It’s exhausting. No joke, most days by the time I’m done with all that stuff, it feels like I just ran a marathon. And compared to how much busier other people are, I know I have it easy! All that multitasking just seems to fracture my mind. It’s hard to concentrate on any one thing, to be in the moment. Because I know I still need to go get groceries, still need to call that insurance agent, and the list goes on and on.

In all this, I’ve felt Jesus saying something, simple but extremely profound as usual: “Stop. Just stop.”

Like I’m a little kid on the verge of hysteria, I feel Jesus gently inviting me to stop trying so hard to get so many things done, that efficiency isn’t my ultimate purpose. He’s challenged me to do just one thing at a time and to be fully present in that. If I’m on a road trip, then just drive. If I’m working out, then just focus on that. No more of this frenetic list-checking.

Breaking this habit of multitasking hasn’t been easy. Even as I sense God’s invitation to focus on just one thing, the temptation’s right there to check my phone, to figure out the three things I have to do when I get home. When I do get tripped up, Jesus gently encourages me to let the distractions go and focus again.

And here’s the thing, even though giving up multitasking seems counterintuitive, it’s actually helping. That feeling of each day being a marathon I just barely finish has started to fade. I’m finding myself able to be more present in the moment—without to-do lists cluttering my head. And yet the important things are still getting done.

Work Boundaries

Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes that “there is a time for everything.” Modern translation: there’s a time to check emails, there’s a time to work, and then there’s a time to not.

I definitely had to learn this the hard way. During my two years as a teacher, there was only one “time”. . . work. How many weekends did I spend at school, lesson planning, grading papers, resenting the thing I’d been so passionate about during college? Ultimately, one of the biggest reasons I’m not a teacher anymore is because I just got burned-out. I didn’t rest. I didn’t think I could. There were always, always more things that had to be done.

Whenever and wherever possible, I encourage you to set firm boundaries between work and personal life. Don’t connect your work email to your phone if you don’t have to. Staying late and going in early will sometimes happen, I get that. But don’t make that the norm. It may seem to help you get more things done in the short-term, but in danger of not having a long-term, of burning out completely, keep those boundaries. Remember efficiency isn’t our ultimate purpose in life. Earning promotions and nailing key deadlines—while they can hold some value—pale in light of eternal kingdom values, of leading a life of love, faith, and hope.

Sabbath

Sabbath can be a pretty divisive topic. I’ve heard Christians say having a full day of rest was mainly part of the Old Testament and something we don’t need to worry about anymore. I’ve heard about others who stick to it strictly with each Sunday being a complete day of rest, where even getting gas is too similar to work. There are plenty articles out there defending and refuting all these arguments, so you don’t need another here.

But take a moment just to think this through. Spending a day once a week free from agendas, free from the necessity of accomplishments. Doing things like worshiping God, reading the Word, taking a nap, connecting with friends and family. Reading a book. Going for a walk. (If you’d like more Sabbath ideas, check this out.) Does that sound like it really would hurt you? The biblical precedent’s there. And we’ve seen that this mentality of always needing to get more things done isn’t healthy either.

It’s slightly amusing, slightly obnoxious, definitely ironic. Most of the time when we read a blog, we’re looking for application. What we can do. But that’s the thing. If we really want to break from the burnout and busyness, that’s exactly what we need to shy away from. Hopefully, this post has given you some good ideas about possible things to try. But do not take this as “3 Quick Fixes to Avoid Burnout.”

One of the best things you can do is respond to Jesus’ invitation: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Just come to him. By yourself. Without your phone, without your to-do lists. Be still before him. Bring your struggles, your busyness, your burnout before him. Rest in his presence without growing impatient (without being easily distracted and thinking about what text, email, etc., is going unanswered).

May we all find true rest from the Prince of Peace!

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Nathan Peterson is a writer on InterVarsity's Communications Team in Madison, WI. He formerly was the Urbana 18 writer. When he’s not at work, you can find him working on his book, at the gym, or watching movies at home. 

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