3 Reasons Why Crazy-Driven, Ambitious-Type Leaders Need To Relax

How good are you at relaxing?  As in take a day off every week, and take a vacation once or twice a year and put feet up kind of relaxing?

I was terrible at it for years.

Many driven leaders find themselves in the same boat.

To my mind, rest was for people who just couldn’t handle a real workload.  If you went home at 4 p.m. or needed three weeks off, it was because you really weren’t committed to the cause.

There was a strange justification that happened in the back of my mind that told me the harder I worked, the more pleased God would be with me.  After all – I was doing his work. And if you were working for God, why wouldn’t you give it everything you had plus an extra 30%?

People would tell me all the time: your pace is unsustainable.  You’re going to burn out.

I just ignored them. Honestly, I thought I was stronger than that, and the strange thing is, for the most part, I was. I could sense burn out and pull back from the edge just in time.

And for years I just ran in overdrive.

Until of course, I burned out. That was twelve years ago.

It’s amazing how you re-evaluate everything when your body and mind come to a screeching halt.

In the last decade, I’ve begun to see overworking through a new light.

And if you’re tempted to blow off the summer and keep your head down working, ignoring your spouse and kids and the beach and some rest….here are a few things to consider.

1. Just Because You Don’t Burn Out, Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Miss Out

One of the frequent questions I get from leaders is “Is burnout inevitable?”

Even though burnout is a virtual epidemic these days, the answer is, thankfully, no. You can over-work for years and not burn out.

But—and don’t miss this—just because you don’t burn out doesn’t mean you don’t miss out.

Consider this, for example. If you’re a parent, you’ll never get your kids’ formative years back. Your constant absence from their lives now won’t be compensated for by early retirement or your sudden realization you’re working too many hours later. By that point, your kids won’t be eight-years-old anymore. They’ll be eighteen or twenty-eight.  And it will be too late.

Sure…God redeems time, but he doesn’t give you the hours you squandered back.

2. Rest Is A Gift.  It’s Also Great Strategy.

If there’s one lesson I learned since I burned out, it’s that rest is a gift.

We all know that God rested on the seventh day.  He also designed life with regular pauses scripted in.  There was to be no work to be done once every seven days.

And if you’ve ever read the Old Testament, you might realize God loves a party.  There were regular holidays, festivals, and even mandated celebration in Old Testament life.

For us A types, remember – God wants us to enjoy life.

As the creators of our bodies and souls, he also realized that we function best when we’re rested and full of good things.

We may think we’re being heroes working 12 hour days six or seven days a week, but the truth is you’re not equally efficient or effective in all those hours. I’m not. You’re not. Most of us have 3-5 super productive hours a day.

So for sure, rest is a gift. It’s also a strategy.

Brain research abounds these days, and findings increasingly show that chaining yourself to a desk or laptop is the best way to deaden your brain. Sleep, rest, exercise and replenishment actually makes you more productive when you’re working. That’s why you get your best ideas when you’re in the shower, or when you’re mowing your lawn.

I get my best ideas when I’m cycling, on my days off or doing work other than work. Literally, the sequences in your brain fire differently when you’re resting. God designed it that way. Creatives…pay attention.

Your best ideas will often come when you’re resting or not trying to work. Eliminate rest, and you eliminate your best ideas.

Follow the bread crumbs? Rest is a strategy.  You’re so much better at work when you’re rested.

3. You’ll Actually Get The Rest You’re Ignoring One Way Or Another 

Here’s a final motivator for those of us who refuse to slow down…like the old me.

Even though God mandated regular rest, there’s little evidence the Israelites took him up on his advice.  The Sabbath was probably broken more than it was observed. And most people believe that the Sabbath of Sabbaths – (the year of Jubilee, where work was shut down for a full year every 50th year) was never actually celebrated.

In other words, driven people were too afraid to take time off, so like us, they ignored God’s design.

So after generations of Israelite’s ignoring God’s command, their nation fell. And after it fell, this poignant verse in scripture makes a haunting claim.

So the message of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The land finally enjoyed its Sabbath rest, lying desolate until the seventy years were fulfilled, just as the prophet had said. (2 Chronicles 36:21)

Did you catch that?  I mean, seriously… Did you actually see what God is saying there?  He’s pointing out that if you don’t take the Sabbath, the Sabbath will take you.

That’s what happened to me. It’s what happens to so many other leaders.

Israel never celebrated the Jubilee, so God said “I’ll make you take it – you’ll be invaded, and against your will, you’ll be in exile for seventy years. There’s your Sabbath.  There’s your Jubilee.”

I wonder if burn out and stress leave are the modern equivalents of exile.

Doing God’s work your way ultimately makes you lose your way.

How Will You Relax This Summer?

So here’s my question: how will you unplug this summer?

My deep-seated fear for years was that if I slowed down, I’d give into laziness. Honestly, I still fear that sometimes, even though it’s totally irrational. I’m not that lazy, but I fear I might be.

What I’m sharing with you in this post is not a blank cheque for laziness. This isn’t about counting your 37.58 hours down the minute to make sure you’ve got what’s coming to you. Not at all.

But it is about realizing that ministry happens deepest and most profoundly when you pursue God’s work using God’s ways and not your own.  You end up accomplishing more in every sphere of your life.

When I started, I wanted to run this marathon like it was a sprint.  I still sprint in seasons, but I’ve come squarely to terms with the truth that this is a marathon.  A marathon God actually even intends us to enjoy.




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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Carey Nieuwhof is founding pastor of Connexus Church north of Toronto and is author of several books, including his latest #1 best-selling work, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow. Carey speaks to church leaders around the world about leadership, change and personal growth. He writes one of today’s most widely read church leadership blogs at careynieuwhof.com and hosts the top-rated Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast where he interviews some of today’s best leaders.