by Felicia Coleman
It was a defining moment in my life. I was a junior in college. Before class started, I was chatting
with some friends and we were comparing who had gotten the least sleep that week. I “won” with nine
hours over the span of three days. Once the professor commanded the attention of the room, we all
turned to face the front as if we had just had the most casual “the weather is lovely today” type of
conversation. I thought about it and realized the week before we had the same conversation, and the
week before, and the one before that. Call it a mixture of divine intervention, a healthy amount of
therapy, and a brain in overdrive from lack of sleep, but it was still a defining moment: the moment I
realized I glorified being “burnt out”. I realized all my friends did. I realized my brain was trained to do
so. All of my peers were.
Why is this relevant to the church? I’m glad you asked. If I have ever felt a communal sense of
burnout, it is right now. And I don’t write that to complain or whine, trust me. My biggest question
when I was asked to start blogging for St. Francis was, “why?”. “What do people want to hear from me
that they don’t already know?” “What wisdom do I possibly have to pass along during this time in
history?” And to be blunt, the answer to most of those questions is still a hard, “I don’t know” but
maybe, just maybe, if nothing else this blog can be a space where we admit the unspoken guilts that we
carry. A place where we can hide from the darkness of shame and enter into the hard truth of the light.
And I know for a fact (many parishioners/youth have expressed it) that a lot of that current guilt, stress,
shame, whatever you want to label it as, roots from burnout. And with the overwhelming amount of
societal evolution that has happened in the past twenty to thirty years, I’m scared burnout glorification
is not going to stop with my “generation”.
The “Baby Boomers” are trying to figure out if retirement is even an option-only 24% of Baby
Boomers feel satisfied with their amount of retirement savings. Gen X is trying to catch up in the
retirement savings game while also caring for children and aging parents. Many young parents/adults
(including myself) fall into the generation known as “millennials”, a generation whose early life was
marked by the 2008 financial crisis and venture capital. We’ve grown up thinking things that should feel
good (hobbies, not being in the office) are bad because we are not working and things that should feel
bad (over-working, burnout) are good because we are staying productive and doing what we need to
succeed. The days of playing with friends for fun feel like they are over, now we are in the business of
optimizing every moment of children’s lives. Unstructured daycare has been replaced with pre-
preschools. A game of “pick-up basketball” is replaced with regulated travel teams. Summer fun has
become 9 am-5 pm internships. College is competitive and the average graduate leaves with not only a
degree but almost $30,000 in student debt. The best word I could use, to sum up high schoolers right
now is scared. The church has gone from being a spiritual safe haven to another thing on the to-do list.
I say all this to remind everyone, in every population, that we are all feeling the stress right now.
This is not an ageist issue, it’s a human issue. Throw years of a global pandemic, the surging cost-of-living
increases and an increasingly tense social and political climate on top of all of that and you have what
I’m calling: The Great Burn Out of 2022. We’re tired. No one has the answers. Yes, we all see the
beautiful, successful people on social media giving ideas and inspiration on how to “make it” but those
people are not you, in your shoes, right now. We spent two years shifting. We were using all of our
brain power to re-imagine school, work, and life. Now, we are suddenly done being in a pandemic, and
everyone’s rushing to try and catch up with what life used to look like. Forgetting all the reimagining we
did in between. Forgetting all the new questions we learned to ask and the answers we found. And
now we work to catch up while also trying not to worry about mass shootings and bigotry.
It is all too much for any human being to carry. Please, have a seat. Take a breath. Take a nap.
Give it to Jesus. Lean into the faith that has carried you countless times before. There is more than
enough heavy stuff and strife to be felt. That does not mean you have to force yourself to feel it at all
times. Putting your phone down and going for a walk does not negate the awful things happening in the
world, but it does give you a moment to rest in the arms of your Creator so you can be renewed in being a living, breathing example of God’s word.
The Great Burnout of 2022 does not have a quick fix and the ways it ties into our faith will
become increasingly apparent. Systemic problems are the roots of most generational burnout and that
is much more than a vacation or sleep can solve. But maybe today is the day where you give yourself a
break? Admit to yourself that you can not fix it all. Admit that you are incredibly ordinary in your ability
to solve every social justice issue. Let it be known that the strength of getting out of bed today was
provided only by some kind of Holy Miracle. Figure out the things that are hard to do in this season and
ask for help to get those things done. Let’s start being honest with each other the same way we are
encouraged to be earnest in front of our God. Let us let the community do its job in providing us with
people who have spans of spiritual gifts. We have all become so obsessed with pointing fingers at each
other that we are forgetting we all have shared trauma from the past two years. That trauma did not
discriminate by age or income. We all felt it and are still feeling it.
The point is: we are tired. And I am here to remind you that being tired is okay. Do something
today just because it sounds fun. Go swing on a playground, no matter how old your children are.
Forget the housework and put on a true-crime documentary. Light the “perfect smelling” candle you
have been saving for guests for yourself. I have no clue what fun looks like for you, but I want you to do
I don’t have the perfect answers on how to get your energy or zest back. I do not know how to
make you feel like yourself again (sorry if that’s what you were reading to find). I’m still trying to figure
that out myself. However, one trope I always return to(and it has gotten me this far) is when the world
feels especially tumultuous, I cling to what I do know. I know that every day I wake up is a gift, even
when it does not feel like it. I know that Jesus felt the weight of weariness and then taught humanity
the value of rest. I know the world is still in God’s hands. I know that every hair on my head is counted,
valued, and loved. I know I am a part of a community that loves me well. I know God has always had
this amazing way of helping us find ourselves again. And when you are able to stumble upon that
version of yourself that you love: they will be so happy to see you.
“Coming Clean: The Great Burnout of 2022”, Felicia Coleman Director of Children's and Youth Ministry, St. Francis Episcopal Church, Greensboro NC, 2022.
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