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Restorative Time Alone

Denise Robinson shares her realization that restoration doesn't have to be work; it can simply be a time of rest:

2020 and 2021 were especially tough for me. I know what you’re thinking…wasn’t it tough for everyone? Yes, of course. I experienced emotions and feelings that I had never experienced before. It was a time of extreme pressure, extreme loss and then extreme burnout.

I have experienced times in my life where I was so exhausted that I needed to take a long break. I have experienced times where I was so overwhelmed that I need to take a step back. This was the first time that I experienced lack of joy in my profession or in my spiritual life. I was truly in burnout.

Burnout. It actually took me quite a while to even admit that what I was experiencing was burnout. My mom passed away at the end of 2020, and I experienced a depth of grief that surprised me. She had been ill for years, and I thought I had prepared myself for her passing. Having been a church worker for most of my adult life, I understood grief, knew that my feelings were normal, but still found the loss to be quite profound. Fortunately I have a wonderful family who allowed me to talk about my pain and go through the grief process with me. At one point, I realized that I wasn’t just experiencing grief. There was something else going on in my life. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it because my personal relationships were strong. I continued to do my job to the best of my ability. Something just wasn’t right. I started digging deeper.

I started doing some research about burnout because I was hearing others talk often about it. We even addressed it in a 2021 mental health worship series called, "Which Way Is Up?" Obviously, I wasn’t the only person who was struggling. I read this definition of burnout: a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Pretty good definition of 2020 and 2021, don’t you think? For me, my burnout came about for several specific reasons; two of which were lack of control and increased workload. I also recognized that I was experiencing insufficient reward for my efforts. I learned how far a “thank you” can go to make a difference, and since the world was hunkered down, thank yous were few and far between. As I continued reading, I learned that burnout can take weeks, months, or years to get over! I am a fixer by nature, so I simply assumed that I could make up my mind to get over burnout and it would happen!

I knew one thing: I didn’t want to start 2022 the same way I ended 2021…simply going through the motions. Although getting over burnout is a gradual process, I wanted to start somewhere. I began by looking at my weekly schedule. I discovered that there was one thing missing: intentional time alone.

I put a high value on vacation time. Vacation for me is a time of restoration…a retreat from work and home responsibilities. Vacation didn’t happen at all in 2020 and it was somewhat different in 2021. I missed vacation. But vacation isn’t the only form of retreat that I needed. I needed a daily retreat. A retreat from the world around me for at least an hour every day.

Time alone. I began to ponder why that missing element in my schedule was so jarring to me. At the same time, it was decided that the Lenten worship series would be called “Restoration.” That was my answer. Time alone was restorative to me.

Time alone is my own personal retreat. I retreat from the pressures around me. I retreat from my mind going a mile a minute. I retreat from by long to-do list. I retreat from my body showing signs of stress. Time alone allows me to relax and be restored. At least for a little while.

Time alone isn’t formulaic for me. It looks different every day. Some days, I sit and read a good book. Some days, I take a walk. Recently, I just sat outside on a sunny day and enjoyed the sounds and warmth. My daily retreat most often is not spent in a discipleship pursuit like prayer, reading my Bible, or doing a devotion. Yet, I feel more energetic, more relaxed, more joyful and closer to God after my time alone. Why? I honestly think that I feel closer to God because my mental well-being is improved simply by taking this time of solitude everyday. I am more comfortable with myself. I escape from the noise and demands of the world around me. I become more relaxed and happy. I begin to notice the world and people around me to a greater degree. I develop a deep sense of gratitude.

I might not be completely restored from burnout at this point but I am on the road to recovery. Restoration has begun in earnest by this practice of solitude.
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