Writer’s Note: Something I’m passionate about is helping leaders last in the positions of leadership God has given them. As a young leader I’ve learned a few lessons the hard way and I welcome the opportunity to share my experience with others to hopefully help other young leaders avoid some of the same traps I’ve been caught up in. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to occasionally write for a series called “Leaders That Last” with the purpose of helping leaders last (maybe survive is a better word for some of us) through the difficulties of growing and living as an intentional leader. While this series is intended for leaders, there maybe something that’s helpful to you even if you don’t consider yourself to be a leader. I hope that you find something inspiring or beneficial.

“You made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its place of rest in you.”

I read those words for the first time about 3 years ago. I was in the middle of probably the most physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausting season of my life and a friend recommended that I should set aside 5 minutes a day and read through Confessions of St. Augustine. That quote was on the first page of the first section, titled Confession of the Greatness of God.

I kept reading, but those words echoed in my mind. At the time, I was working an average of 55-60 hours a week, balancing all the same various aspects of life that you are probably trying to balance. I was playing with fire, lingering on the edge of burnout, and I didn’t even know it. All I knew was that I felt constantly tired. I felt numb; I didn’t experience normal highs and lows…just a consistent state of exhaustion. My spiritual life was hanging by a thread.

Something had to give, but I was so busy that I didn’t know where I’d possibly find the margin to work this rest into my schedule and still sustain all of the things I had going on. I had too many plates spinning, and I couldn’t break my rhythm or one (or all) of them might fall.

That tension is one that every single person who walks the earth will wrestle with in one way or another at some point. Burnout wrecks marriages, families, careers, and even leads many to depression and suicide. It’s more than just stress…it’s deeper. (Learn more about the difference between burnout and stress here.)

I recently had the privilege of hearing leadership expert John Maxwell speak live, and he said something that was extremely profound. “Everything I’ve learned about leadership, I’ve learned from the Bible.” He explained to us that by studying Jesus, he learned the rhythms of successful leadership and healthy living. So it’s no wonder that Maxwell is such a huge proponent of intentionally building rest into our lives.

Mark 6 tells of a time Jesus’ followers were working themselves ragged, and he commanded them to take a break:

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Jesus knew the dangers of burnout, and the value of rest.

Maybe you’re in a place where you need some rest. Leaders that last will take the following three steps:

  1. Understand and make peace with the fact that it’s ok to rest. For those of us who link our identities to our successes, it’s easy to work so hard that we have no margin in our lives. The idea of taking time away seems lazy or wasteful. But in truth, it’s necessary. We have to accept that times, even seasons, of rest are essential to not burning out. Don’t be afraid to just hit the pause button once in a while and take a break to relax and recharge.
  2. Say no to the good so you can say yes to the best. Another way to say this might be to reprioritize your schedule, eliminating certain things so that you can build rest into your life. Andy Stanley speaks to this often. He has given two pieces of advice that I consider often. First, delegate or avoid doing things that anyone can do so that you can focus on doing what only you can do. Second, go ahead and accept that you can’t be everything to everyone, and you can’t do what every person wants you to do. You don’t have the capacity, and time is not scaleable. Instead, do for one what you wish you could do for everyone. You can’t possibly make a difference in every life or situation, so make a difference in one and make it count.
  3. Find a place of rest. Designate a place to go to get away, unplug, and find rest. It doesn’t have to be far away. Honestly, it probably shouldn’t be far away, or else you won’t go there when you’re feeling particularly busy. But set aside space to be a place where you know that you can find peace and calm, and be intentional about going there.

Without rest, your days are numbered, and that number probably isn’t a very big one. But if you commit to being intentional about building rest into your day, you will be more productive, you will experience more joy in leadership, and you will be better prepared to last in leadership for the long haul.

What is your place of rest? How have you built this rhythm into your life?