Ep. 138 || Mothering Through Burnout: Stewardship & Sacrifice Transcript

This transcript is made possible by our generous donors. Learn how you can join them. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Emily: Welcome back to another episode of Risen Motherhood. I’m Emily, here with Laura. 

Laura: Hey guys!

Emily: We’re excited to be back and kicking off a two-part series today. 

Laura: We’re going to talk about service—giving your life as a living sacrifice. As you know, Emily and I talk about how different we are as moms and how we do things differently, even though we have the same values system and believe the gospel undergirds what we do. We set out to write two different shows and realized we wrote the same show from two different perspectives. 

Emily: We’re going to interview each other—for lack of a better way to put it—for two conversations, and we hope you’ll listen to both of them. Even though you may relate to one of us more or less, it’s helpful to learn from one another and see different ways we can be tempted.

But before we jump into that, we want to tell you about something you can get for free at Risen Motherhood. On the first friday of every month, we have a newsletter that comes straight to your inbox! It’s packed with so many fun things.

Laura: It comes out in a week and a half so you have 10 days—if you’re listening on release day—to sign up before the newsletter goes out. One of our favorite things in it is the “mom tip.” We cover things like screen time, Easter, Advent, church history, and all sorts of things. Each month is a little different with a different focus. I think you’ll find it really enjoyable to read through and hopefully really helpful in your life. We’ve had great feedback on it. 

Emily: And if you sign up now, you also get this beautiful floral print. It illustrates the four parts of the gospel that we talk about on the show. It’s not in your face, big words on the wall; it’s something that can remind you as you glance over at it in the bathroom...over the toilet—

Laura: Oh!

Emily: Well, like potty training and you’re frustrated so you look up—

Laura: [Laughter]

Emily: Oh no, this is going to go somewhere bad.

Laura: I was just like, “Okay! The toilet is a great spot.” But how about your couch? Your fireplace?

Emily: Oh yeah, there too. Anywhere you need a reminder. 

Laura: That’s right. You need it when you’re on the toilet. [Laughter]

Emily: This is the weirdest show intro we’ve ever done.

Okay, well, let’s jump into today’s show. First off, we want to acknowledge that all of us feel busy—whether you work outside the home, from home, primarily doing work with your kids in the home, or whatever your work, church, life balance looks like, we all feel busy.

Laura: Yeah, there was this Facebook post I saw and sent to the team that made me think, “This is who we want to speak to at Risen Motherhood.” This woman talked about all the pressures she feels day-in and day-out. She happened to be a mom who worked outside the home, but she talked about feeding your kids, grocery shopping, meal-planning, going on vacation, taking your kids to all their appointments, being well-read, staying up on pop culture, getting in shape, sleeping, styling your hair, getting off your phone—

I could go on and on with so many things that culture and the world tell you to do. It’s exhausting for me to read it to you and it’s exhausting to live; and that’s what we’re all living. The post had—last time we checked—almost 80,000 likes,  20,000 comments, and 72,000 shares. People resonated with this.

Emily: And if you’re a mom who believes in God and wants to follow Christ, we have this whole other thing; it’s not just the pressures of culture. We also want to live for God, serve well, love our family, love our church, love our neighbors. There’s a whole other thing that feels like pressure even though it’s a joy and our life-calling. God wants us to order our time, energy, and resources around his priorities for the kingdom. 

So these two shows we’re about to do are not about doing more or doing less or finding the perfect balance, but instead: what does it mean to be a living sacrifice and what does it mean to live for Christ? Whether we live or die, we’re the Lord’s, and our lives should be oriented around him. We’re trying to unpack and examine what that looks like for different moms in different scenarios with different personalities. 

Laura: Yeah, I think our upbringings, our personalities, our experiences, and our preferences make us prone to crawling off the altar in different ways. There are two big temptations for moms:

  1. Serving to the point of burnout, which is what we’ll talk about today.

  2. Resisting a generous life of serving.

These play out in different ways and everybody does a little bit of them at different times, so it’s not exclusive to each type. Today, we’re going to talk a bit about burnout and being overly busy, being burdened and overwhelmed, always trying to keep up with the rat race of life. 

Emily: Before we jump in, we definitely want to say we’re not counselors or doctors, so anything we share in this show or the next one is from our personal experience and Bible study, and our desire to communicate the good news and the Word of God. If there’s something pulling at your heart strings or you feel you need to talk to someone, please reach out to a licensed counselor, someone you trust, or even a doctor.

All right, so Laura, how about you start and tell us a little bit about your journey of how you got to the point in motherhood and in life where you realized you were serving to the point of burnout?

Laura: A lot of it started back in the summer of 2017. I had my third baby, and two months later, we found out she had special needs, which set in motion a slew of medical and therapy appointments. It was a whole new world for me. That same week, my husband severely broke his leg and needed a major surgery, a wheelchair, and crutches; he couldn’t even carry our new baby girl. At the time, he was working really heavily, which you’ve heard on the last show Emily interviewed me on, which was on husbands who work long hours. He worked double the average amount of hours for his peers. We lived in Chicago without a lot of family support; we did have an incredible church community, but we didn’t have a lot of family. 

So time marches on, and we ended up moving back to Iowa. We lived temporarily with my parents for that year while we built a house. We secured a book deal somewhere in the midst of that. We’ve turned Risen Motherhood into a nonprofit. I was working 20-30 hours a week while continuing to care for my youngest daughter who had about 3-5 appointments a week and managing the family. 

It didn’t happen overnight, but over the course of time, I felt very stressed out, and I was very overwhelmed. I started getting sick more frequently. I started having stress-induced vertigo; I had headaches, a rash, insomnia. I’d wake at 3am for no reason; I just couldn’t sleep. I was tired but I couldn’t sleep, so I got up to work. I stopped caring as much about things I was doing. I still worked and did things, but the passion and zeal wasn’t there. I felt apathetic about results or how things would happen. I couldn’t focus. I’d forget silly things I normally wouldn’t. 

One big thing was I started having doubts about my faith, which I hadn’t before. I started to question things that had always been rock solid for me. I think what happened was, over time, Emily and my parents started to notice a change and shift in me. They told me to slow down, but even then, I felt defensive. I’d think, “This is just my life. I can’t stop. Eventually I’ll stop, but I can’t right now. I don’t know how to stop.” I really needed their help to process things and to heal. I went through major grief with my daughter. I went through a ton of life transitions. I think they say to only go through one a year, and I went through three or more major life transitions. So, it was the perfect storm in my life. 

Emily: Thanks for sharing all that. Of course, I lived it beside you firsthand and watched you walk through that. I like how you noted it didn’t happen overnight; it was a process. A lot of those things weren’t in your control necessarily. So there’s that reality that occasionally our life circumstances, in God’s sovereignty, stack up and help reveal to us what’s going on in our hearts. Can you explain a little more: what is burnout and how did you know it’s different than being a little overwhelmed or tired? 

Laura: I think I used to think it was a term people used to rest. [Laughter] This is an overachiever talking over here. Emily’s laughing. 

What I learned is burnout is a real thing. It’s been studied by psychologists. Typically, you don’t think you need a break, so you keep running at an unsustainable pace. It’s not thinking you’re tired and in need of a break; it’s actually very difficult for you to stop. You can Google to learn more about the psychology but it’s also something I see in the Bible. 

The word “burnout” isn’t in the Bible, but we see a nod towards it. Perhaps the most telling is Moses in Exodus 18. Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, comes to him because Moses is exhausted. The people are coming to him all day long with all their fights and disagreements. He’s trying to help them know what to do. And Jethro tells him what he’s doing is not good, and he’s going to wear himself out. The burden is too heavy for him; he can’t do it alone. Jethro tells him to get wise people around himself and divide that work. He says they’re going to bear the burden with him, and if Moses does this, God will direct him and he’ll be able to endure. I thought that was really helpful. Moses couldn’t do it alone; everyone wanted him to do it and it seemed like he was the right person to do it, but ultimately, that’s not the way God designed it. It’s important to note it’s a time when you’re in chronic stress but you can’t function very well or effectively, which is what Jethro was trying to tell Moses. In many ways, you’re unhelpful to the things you need to get done.

Emily: I love that you’re sharing those examples, because whenever we look to the Bible we see humans have been dealing with these same emotions, heart issues, and challenges throughout all of history. And God, throughout all of history, has provided answers in people being able to recognize their limitations, depend on God, see the community that he’s placed around them so they can all more effectively serve and obey the Lord. I think you noted this was a slow thing for you; it wasn’t one decision or one thing that happened. So why do you think we’re prone to being overwhelmed and busy, and therefore burnout?

Laura: I think we all have this deep desire to feel successful and valued. There’s the idea of, “I’m so busy!” sounds super cool. There’s value in our work, but the work doesn’t give us value. A lot of times this comes down to pride: we don’t need friends, rest, or support. In essence, we’re saying we don’t need the gospel. With burnout—or even being really busy or enjoying being overwhelmed—there are underlying lies we believe. One is wanting to feel or believing we’re indispensable or irreplaceable. We see this with moms. “No one else can take care of my children as well as I can.” I know that’s something I did. I had far less childcare than I probably needed, because I felt like I could make the best decisions for my family so I needed to do it. Another one is believing we don’t have limits. As moms, we’re spread super thin already with the daily tasks in front of us. But in our pride, we think we can do a little more, do it a little faster, go to bed a little later, read our Bibles on a different day. There are a lot of lies we feed to ourselves about our limitations God’s placed on us for our good. Last, I’d say we can love our success or achievements more than we love God. It’s the sin of idolatry. I know, for me, I can get a little bored with the daily grind of motherhood, that mundane work, and I might look for something that gives a more instant gratification. Success with a child is 18 years aways, so what can I do right now?

Emily: If it comes.

Laura: If it comes! I think busyness can satiate our need for success and accomplishment. 

Emily: I think a lot of moms can resonate with that need to see immediate results or to feel like their lives are full or busy and they’re needed or essential. And we do play a really essential role in our family, but I think you’re highlighting whenever we’re serving to the point of burnout—not recognizing our limitations or trusting in the Lord—we’re doing the opposite of what we want to do. We’re not able to make the best decisions; we’re not able to love them well. So, what can a mom do to prevent burnout? To keep herself from getting to a point of being too busy?

Laura: I think there are some practical things you can set in place, but there are also some spiritual values that need to be understood. For me, I had some false beliefs—or ultimately, bad theology—in place that didn’t allow me to rest. I didn’t have a spiritual framework for rest; I didn’t find it valuable. I had to understand that rest is far more than a weekend trip away or a night out with the girls. It’s the state of our hearts. I had heard that before; it wasn’t new to me. But I needed to understand it’s a deep soul rest that depends on Christ in every moment, knowing he is the ultimate and only source of accomplishment or success. It’s abiding in Christ continually. Honestly, I could say all of those things correctly, but I didn’t really know what it meant for my own life. I think much of that is done in discovery. If you’re in this place, I’d encourage you to study rest and what it means to abide in Christ. I think many of us parrot the right words and say the right things, but to truly know our work and obediences flows from a love of Jesus, his death, and resurrection, probably comes more from deep study and time spent in God’s word and prayer, asking the Spirit to work in your heart.

I think I had to remind myself that Jesus identified with me in this. He knows exactly what it feels like to be so busy, overwhelmed, and so stretched by the daily needs of life. The demands on him were astronomical, but he didn’t lean out or have a meltdown. But we do see him going off to pray or spend time with his closest friends or sleep. He didn’t do it all. There were people left unhealed, and there were people who didn’t hear a sermon or touch his clothes, but he still did all the Father wanted him to do. I think that’s a comfort for me that I don’t have to be all things to all people, because that’s not my job. I can follow Jesus’ path and know there are things that are going to be left undone, opportunities I won’t do, and that’s okay. These things don’t earn my status before God. They’re just done as overflow of love for my Savior. So what can I do to glorify God? How can I join the body of Christ to support other people instead of trying to live outside of that within my own abilities?

Emily: As we’ve been talking, what I hear you saying is, for you, being a living sacrifice and living with that heart and mindset, means there are going to be opportunities before you to serve and to achieve or feel successful that you’re going to trust God in your rest and maybe say no to. Your flesh and what you feel like you should do is to say yes to everything and keep the whole world spinning. For some of us, that is what it means to be a living sacrifice: to choose to rest in Christ in a way that actively says no to things that seem like good things to do. It’s interesting. So what’s next for a mom who’s overwhelmed or feels like she’s in this position?

Laura: I wish we had more time, because I feel like I have 75,000 things to continue sharing with a mom. I think the best thing—if you’re feeling busy or overwhelmed or unsure of what the next steps are—is to see if there’s any sin you need to repent of. We talked about this earlier in the interview, and there are probably other sin issues that I didn’t mention like fear. Talk to others. That was a pretty big deal for me, especially to admit some spiritual doubts I was having. I didn’t want to tell anyone because I worried they wouldn’t like it, or might get scared, or think I was a fraud. I think that was the biggest thing I fell into: not wanting to be truly honest with my friends and family about what was going on out of fear. Letting someone in—whether that’s your husband or a wiser woman or friend—is so important. I was grateful. Those few people I told weren’t upset at all. I’d advise you to talk to someone. They can help you understand if it’s anxiety or depression or something different than burnout. Finally, find what you can change. I started instituting a pretty strict Sabbath; I’d never done that before. I studied rest and how important it was to shift my mind during burnout. We had new, strict rules, which I had never had, for my good. We’re getting to a place now where we can be a bit more flexible, but that was huge. See what you can change and set aside that time you can rest with accountability. If you’re prone towards this, like I am, that can be immensely helpful in preventing burnout or helping you heal.

Emily: As Laura said, we want to acknowledge there can be overlap in some of these symptoms: depression, anxiety. If this is something you’re concerned about, don’t self-diagnose. Talk to somebody or a professional. Laura, before we go, where are you at today? Are you still in burnout? How are things today?

Laura: I’m doing a lot better, but I’ve been surprised by how long it’s taken to heal. I’m not good with ambiguity; I like to know it’s done and behind me. I’m a task-oriented person. I think it’s a long-healing process, but I’m doing much better. When I started admitting it about a year ago, that really helped to set me on the right path and to get people around me to hold me accountable. For me, I had to understand in order to be a living sacrifice, in order to serve my family well, I had to less than I expected.

Emily: I was talking to Laura earlier today about yesterday being Sunday. She said there was a lot to do for the week after being out of town and things were really busy, but it was fun to hear her share she spent time with her husband, and relaxed, and did some family things. And you mentioned you were cleaning your house, which I know when we’re really busy with a lot of other things, cleaning can be a simple way to slow down and prepare our home for the next day. I’m encouraged by the way I’ve seen you obey God’s command for the Sabbath. Yes, it happens in our hearts, but also you’ve implemented in your life and there’s been good fruit from it. It’s been really fun.

Laura: Thank you. That’s really nice to hear. I think it takes work to cultivate that sustainable life. I’d encourage—no matter where you are on the spectrum—you to put the effort in. God has called us to an abundant life, not a harried, busy life. That life has sleep, purpose, rest, and joy. I want to encourage you, if you’re feeling this way, you take time to stop and find the rest that’s offered to you today. You don’t have to wait until things are different to find it. I think that’s a huge relief that you can rest even in a busy season.

Emily: So mothering in rest—we definitely want to be living and thinking that way. Thanks for tuning into today’s interview. Again, this is the first part of a two-part series looking at what it means to be a mom who is a living sacrifice, learning to serve in abundant ways. Join us next week, I’m going to share about how we can resist this and want to hold a generous life of serving at arms length in order to be comfortable. 

If you want to find more about this, head to risenmotherhood.com. We have show notes and more information there. You can also find us @risenmotherhood on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Thanks so much for joining us! Don’t forget to go sign up for the newsletter!