As I finished my composition degree, the pressure of the large assignments and looming deadlines drained my creativity. I started dragging my feet to work, and bribing myself to get homework done. I was burning out. But how could I take a break with so many deadlines looming? And without taking a break, how could I recover?
It’s been a while! Thankfully there were no tragedies barring these blog posts this time, it was just a very busy final semester of my degree, and then I got sick. As I will soon explain to you, I stopped caring enough about this blog to be stressed about it. But now the degree is finished, and, well, it took a while, but amidst the illness, this post was born.
I now have enough headspace to talk about something that’s been bothering me for a while now.
A lot of people are talking and complaining about burn-out at the moment, and a lot are feeling it too. I think every year of my degree, I burnt out at some point (and twice in my second year). I felt like I had no creativity left. Composing was an overwhelming task for me, and often I would force myself to work for an agonising twenty-five minutes, then take a half-hour break where I just lay on my bed feeling sorry for myself.
In my final semester, I was recycling work in an attempt to make it out of the course with a passing grade. Nothing was more appealing than the thought that in so many weeks, I won’t have to force myself to be creative.
(I know that’s melodramatic, and untrue, but it was appealing, okay?)
The solution to burn-out is, as we all know (say it with me!) to rest. Take a holiday. Refill your creative well.
And that’s great, if you have that kind of freedom.
But with the deadlines gunning me down each weekend, it was impossible to take a holiday. Even taking one day off felt impossible at times, despite my policy of always taking a Sabbath (one day off a week to enjoy God and rest). Taking even an evening off, or watching another half-hour episode felt not only unwise, but like I was wasting perfectly good time. Every minute seemed to be slipping out of my grasp, as though I was a bomb-disposal unit with a ticking time-bomb.
The thing is, I’ve felt this way as long as I can remember. Each minute is precious; each one must be accounted for.
See, there’s a verse in the Bible that tells us to “[make] the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16, ESV) And at some point in my youth, I got this idea that making the best use of my time = doing homework (or working). I’m not sure how, but I decided that the best thing I can do on earth–the thing that will make God most proud and most glorified–is to work hard.
Have you ever thought like that? Maybe you don’t put God into your mindset, but you still have this idea that any time spent not working is time badly spent. As I got older, time badly spent started to also include time not spent with God, family or friends, or fill in the blank. I started counting out my minutes, justifying how I was spending them to God and worrying what He thought of me when I wasn’t “making the best use of them”. I can watch this episode, because I worked hard before. Or, I can read this chapter now because this book is teaching me how to pace my own stories well. If it didn’t seem like a good enough excuse, I felt awful doing it. In the back of my mind, I believed that God was shaking his head at me for watching a movie, and nodding contentedly when I was doing my homework.
I think this was a massive contributing factor to my burn-out. I allowed myself to rest only when I decided I had “earned it”, and if I couldn’t justify it, it tore me up inside. When I was working, I was stressed. When I was resting, I was stressed.
Everything I did became work. Even things that weren’t, like Bible study, I only did because I thought I should, because if I didn’t, God would be upset with me. Do you see why life was so exhausting? If I did something, it would make me tired. If I didn’t do it, I would feel guilty.
I wanted to take a break, go somewhere where I couldn’t think about work, but I couldn’t escape the deadlines. And now that I’ve had that break (it was very nice, thanks for asking), I now realise that it wouldn’t get to the bottom of my burnout. Yes, it helps, but really only because I wouldn’t have noticed this trend without being able to step back from it.
Maybe you see yourself in this post. You feel tired and stretched-thin, but have too many permanent responsibilities to take a break. Maybe the timing is bad, or you just don’t have the energy to think out the complicated logistics.
Let go of counting minutes.
Yes, make the best use of your time. Remember, you will be held responsible for how you used it. But don’t let that become a fear that holds onto you and keeps you from enjoying your life and looking after yourself.
Jesus says, “come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” This doesn’t just refer to rest from work, but rest from religion and the need to prove ourselves. Rest from counting minutes and trying to make God happy with us by what we do. Jesus lived the perfect life, so that nothing we do can make God shake his head at us in disapproval.
Please let go of counting minutes. I know, you need to work hard to meet that deadline. I understand that your work is important to you, and you want to do a good job. That’s really good, and important. And I know there are frustrating and unique challenges that are making your job so much harder. I’m frustrated with you, I am.
But God loves you more than He loves your work. He values you above anything you could ever do. His love for you isn’t even dependent on anything you’ve done, but on what He’s already done. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, [Jesus] Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Even while we were His enemies, God loved us.
And because of that, you can allow yourself time to breathe.
Watch that episode, and trust that God will give you time and energy (and adrenaline 😅) to catch up later. Read that extra chapter, even if it is creeping toward midnight, and trust that even if you’ll be tired tomorrow, God has made you strong enough to work when you’re tired. Allow yourself to sleep in, even if it means you miss your morning Bible study, and trust that God will love you even if you do it at 11am, or don’t get to it at all today.
In the end, it’s not trusting in yourself that allows you to reach your goals. It’s trust in God. I find that so freeing, because even when I can say “I don’t think I can do this”, I can’t ever say “I don’t think God can do this.” That just feels ridiculous!
Don’t feel guilty for resting, or taking some time off, whether you “deserve” it or not! Look after yourself. Sometimes, that will mean working, and sometimes that will mean resting. I trust you to know the difference :).
If you know you should rest a little bit, but still feel guilty for not working, you can tell this to yourself:
“I, ____, hereby give express permission for _____ to _______. I trust that s/he knows the consequences of his/her actions, and at this moment, doesn’t care.
I know it feels wrong – reckless and dangerous, especially with that deadline approaching. I know you “should be working” and “won’t make it in time”. But trust God and the way He’s designed you, to be able to finish your work on time, because you rested today.
Besides, it’s signed. Now you have to stop working, and do something that makes you happy! :3
So my wonderful and stressed creative friends! What do you do when you need a break from working? How do you balance work and rest?
2 thoughts on “Letting Go of Counting Minutes”
This is probably one of the most encouraging blog posts I have read. I, too, struggle with counting my minutes and justifying my resting with my work, so this was a true blessing to see on your blog. Thank you so much!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Aww, thank you so much, Kirsten! It means so much to know that my writing is helping you ☺️. Thank you so much for the encouragement! ❤