Ever feel worn down, your spiritual life lagging, feeling like all you are doing is going through the motions, and church engagement is feeling more like “gospel grind” than blessing? When we find ourselves in one of these moments–perhaps days, months, years!–what might we do to recover a little of that energy and sense of joy we remember?
In this episode, Jana Riess and Mark De St. Aubin join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a discussion of insights into the phenomenon of “gospel burn-out,” various framings for acknowledging it and making our way through the doldrums and into deeper connection and spiritual awareness. Have you ever considered burn-out a blessing? Find out why these panelists frame it that way!
After listening, please share your stories and reflections in the comments section below!
Jana Riess, Flunking Sainthood Every Day
Jana Riess, Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor
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Really connected with this. Helps me to hear from others that can put into word how I feel. Thank you all and bless you!
Once again, great podcast!
I was deeply touched by the thoughts insights and quotes that were shared by Jana and Mark.
My experience has been that “gospel burn-out” is fairly common. But it is culturally seen as a sign of dedication, faith, obedience, etc., to push through it. I have friends who have served at all levels of Church leadership whose health and families have been affected because of their “dedication to the work of the Lord.”
Gospel burn-out is exacerbated because there is relatively nothing in the Church that encourages the development of a rich spiritual inner life. Once again, in my experience, most members and leaders have no idea (or for that matter any tools or helps) that the inner experience is available. Some sense that something is missing and that spirituality is not found in the constant busyness of the Church, but they don’t know where to turn, or worse, they think that their lack of spiritual wholeness is due to something they are doing wrong. They mistakenly feel that the solution is to become more dedicated by taking more responsibility or they go over their checklists to make sure they are being exactly obedient in everything.
In spite of the dire situation that I have portrayed in the previous paragraph, I do feel that more members are discovering that a rich inner spiritual life is available and are undertaking practices such as daily devotion, contemplative prayer, and meditation. I hope that if there is enough of this going on that a change can be made within the Church so that members will not feel that they have to go outside the Church to find the deep spiritual life they are searching for.
Amen, Greg! Very well said.
I think Greg’s comments are very pertinent. I’m a non-denominational Christian with LDS friends and I’ve been to many of the services available across the Christian sprectrum, and a few Buddhist things as well. In my experience, LDS meetings are long and feel like school. In a good ward, there are lots of friendly people who are great to socialise with outside of church. In a bad ward things feel a bit like the Salem witch hunts. But whatever the quality of the ward, I never felt like there was any actual celebration of God going on. For that, I have to go to a good Evangelical singalong (not all of them are good) or a Catholic or Orthodox mass or go see a gospel choir or take a TARDIS to an early U2 concert, etc.
LDS Sacrament meeting, which I imagined should be the celebratory highlight of an LDS assembly, is loaded with speeches which are often more tedious than at a school assembly, and the actual Lord’s Supper doesn’t, to me feel like one. I guess once you’ve been to a Catholic communion with a white host and actual red wine and incense and soaring music and stained glass windows and a real atmosphere, or have broken real bread (not supermarket slices of so-called bread) and shared a cup with alternative peacenik Christians, the bar is pretty high. Without wishing to offend – I am just reporting my own responses straight here – it’s pretty hard to feel like you’re participating in the Lord’s Supper when it’s coming to you in take-away style trays like something from McDonalds, bearing the crumbled white Woolworths toast loaf, and chlorinated tapwater tasting of plasticisers from little use-once-and-discard plastic cups that leave me wondering how high the mountain of waste plastic from worldwide LDS meetings is each Sunday. Also, it is so ironic to see a group of teatotallers who have actually removed the wine even from the Lord’s Supper then look like they’re taking shots of vodka at a bar as part of their Lord’s Supper ritual.
Also, the music: When asking why it’s always organ, I heard from quite a few different LDS officiators that it’s because the Lord apparently likes the organ best, and guitars, lyres, percussion, and so forth are unthinkable and not holy enough. Hmmm. Yet look at the wonderful re-worked renditions of some standard LDS hymns that you guys are using as theme music for MM, MS and GMS podcasts: Those are heartfelt and beautiful and alive, and something I actually would enjoy singing along to.
Maybe if things weren’t so scripted and over-regulated, actual genuine expressions could surface, and church could be a more spiritual experience. I think to an extent, a lot of mainstream Protestant denominations suffer from the same dullness in their services – and that was probably to set themselves apart from the Catholicism they split from. The hippies from the Jesus movement are largely responsible for bringing more lively music into Pentecostal and Evangelical churches – and of course, the African-Americans always had a penchant for wonderful music in any churches they had a proper say in.
It’s not all about music, either. Quakers usually have none, and do a largely silent, but often very spiritual, circle every Sunday: Now that’s an experience everyone ought to have, and a complete counterpoint to sitting in pews facing a lectern. It’s also a philosophical checkpoint: You’re all equal and it’s up to you – don’t look for another human being to follow.
Buddhists are very personable and can teach us some wonderful meditation practices and philosophies which are vastly compatible with Christianity.
My biggest hat off to LDS is probably that you guys usually have so much respect for people of other religions, and are happy to talk to them as fellow human beings – which is more than can be said for a lot of Evangelicals. When there is diversity and respect, there is so much that people can learn from each other…
Sorry ’bout the unfavourable review of your church services: You’re mostly very cool to hang out with, friendly, courteous, self-educating, very self-sufficient, and can teach much of the rest of the world a thing or two about community.
Sue, your comments are fantastic. As a southern somewhat disaffected Mormon I can completely agree with most of what you’re saying. Sadly, I am not lying when I say the most enjoyable time I ever had in church was in singles ward. But I wasn’t there completely for the right reasons!
I have learned over the years to not count on LDS church services to do much more than give me a few tips here and there or to share experiences with others. I have had to create a vibrant inner life and spirituality in order to have those needs met. I really do wish our services would be more of a celebration.
I heard a comment that I think is really spot-on. “In the church we practice Christ-centered boredom.” Dang if that isn’t the truth a good part of the time.
I am sorry I don’t have the source because I would like to give them the credit.
Ta, Adam, and all the best with your journey. Pretty much every human organisation, religious or otherwise, has its problems. And if you go to an Evangelical singalong, usually you’re surrounded by a lot of people who won’t read, or let their children read, Harry Potter, who disparage evolutionary biologists without even an ounce of intellectual understanding of the science, and who call Buddhism and Islam “Satanic” religions. Ho hum. My husband says all those things just confirm his low opinion of much of humanity. I’d like to think better of people, but mostly I think it’s a minority of people who inspire me – maybe what MLK called the “creatively maladjusted”!
A couple of random thoughts about the discussion – Regarding burn-out, my son is debating going on a mission but wondering how he is going to talk people into coming to church when he is so bored by it that he can’t stand 3 hours every Sunday. I concurred that services can be fairly dull but usually sometime between the invocation at hour one and the benediction at hour 3, something moves me. I don’t experience spiritual arousal for a full three hours. However, when I attend and try to pay attention, I am usually rewarded with something, albeit a single moment, that makes the effort of attendance worth it.
On the topic of setting goals to become something (i.e. self improvement), in a recent Sunday School class the discussion question the teacher presented was, “How can we be an example to or influence on others?” I bristled at the question because it is predicated on the notion that we are superior to others and have something they need. I suggested that we turn it around and be interested in others and what we can learn from them – that we connect in our humanity. Only then will our influence be felt, not as an objective met, but as a by-product of our genuine interest in and love for our fellow beings.
Finally, on Dan’s question regarding the chicken and the egg question (i.e. the thought, the feeling or the practice), Brigham Young made a statement that helps me when I am feeling less than motivated. He said, “I will give my hands to this work until my heart consents to be bound.”
I just wanted to thank you for this wonderful podcast. I’ve listened to it twice, and will probably listen to it again when I feel I am need a reminder of what has been shared.
I have been experiencing burnout in several area’s of my life, church being a major one. I am guilty of having that “vending machine” perspective, and have had some great disappointments lately in my family life, that have made it difficult to feel like all of my sacrifices have been worth it. I appreciate both of you so much for sharing the idea that this is an opportunity for great growth, and hopefully I will be able to find myself becoming closer to God through these trials.
I would love to hear more podcasts with both of you in the future! Jana, I read your blog faithfully. I never comment, but I love it, and appreciate the time you take to write about important issues. You have changed my perspective many times.
I’m beginning to this Dan has podcast burnout. I hope you are doing okay.
Well after several months of multiple MormonMatters podcasts with some really great ones in there, I would assume Dan needed to take a break. And given that these are often recorded, edited, then scheduled for release then we might just be seeing Dan’s Christmas break.
I mean after all, this seems to be one of those real lulls in anything going on in the church. So what could Dan talk about. I mean the blogernacle is oddly quiet (NOT!)
This quotation from The Parables of Our Lord, by Marcus Dods, fits so well with the theme of your podcast. In his chapter on The Laborers in the Vineyard, the Savior’s conversation with the rich young man and it’s encapsulated question form the preamble to this beautiful parable. Here are Dod’s thoughts:
When Peter saw how keenly the Lord appreciated the difficulty of giving up property and detaching oneself from familiar comforts and employments, he suggested that those who overcame this difficulty were peculiarly meritorious. “Behold,” he says, “we have forsaken all and followed Thee: what shall we have therefore?”
But in asking this question Peter betrayed precisely that disposition which most thoroughly vitiates all service of Christ, the disposition to bargain, to work for a clearly defined reward and not for the sake of the work itself and in generous trust in the justice and liberality of the Master.
Peter had to all appearance made, so far as was possible in his circumstances, the very sacrifice which the rich young man had declined to make; but if a sacrifice is made merely for the sake of winning for oneself some greater gain, then it is no longer a sacrifice but a bargain. Love and trust are of the essence of sacrifice.
Peter had left his home, his boat and fishing gear, and all the pleasant associations of the lake: he had torn himself up by the roots; but if he had done so not from simple love of Christ which found its ample reward in His company, but with a clear understanding that he would have a good return in kind for all he had given up, then he was perhaps premature in so complacently comparing himself with the rich young man.
It is the motive which gives virtue to any sacrifice or service. The spirit which asks what compensation is to be made for every sacrifice, is self-regarding, mercenary, greedy, not generous, trustful, loving: it confounds two things diametrically different, bargain and sacrifice.”
A lovely conversation for what is to many, the elephant in the room.
Sarita Hartz blog post, “What I Wish I’d Known About Missionary Burnout” suggests that this is not just a Mormon malady.