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Avoiding Burnout: Establishing a Rule of Life

Updated: Dec 23, 2021

"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace." — Frederick Buechner

Life is full of rhythms. This is by Design. Years. Seasons. The ebb and flow of the tides. Day and night. The circadian rhythms that govern our bodies' daily cycle of consciousness and sleep. The more frequent cycle of hunger and activity that we pass through several times a day. Even our breath is governed by a rhythm that marks the passing of each moment of our lives.

But the one kind rhythm we often miss—or perhaps sometimes ignore—is what author and spiritual director Ruth Haley Barton refers to as Sacred Rhythms. These are repeating cycles of active engagement in the work you are called to, followed by periods of withdrawal—solitude, rest, and restorative community. As any athlete will tell you, our bodies are not designed to sprint at full speed indefinitely. Neither are our souls. Just as our body needs both rest and refueling after a season of exertion, so do our hearts.

In two previous posts on avoiding burnout, I used a car analogy to talk about Leadership Capacity and Leadership Pace. Leadership Rhythm is the third and final element that a leader needs to be intentional about in order to maintain health and balance in his or her life. In terms of the car analogy, if capacity relates to how much of a load you can carry, and pace to the speed at which you're driving, then rhythm speaks to the regular maintenance cycle of the car as a whole.

In her book, Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton does a terrific job of exploring the principle of rhythm in the life of a leader. She explains how to effectively integrate a Sabbath as a part of your weekly rhythm, and provides a powerful reflective exercise for creating a general Rule of Life: a collection of restorative practices you commit to follow on a regular basis.

To be effective as a leader over the long haul, you need to create your own version of a Rule of Life. If you're unsure where to begin, Barton's book provides a meaningful guide. Also, a trained coach or spiritual director can partner with you in designing a Rule of Life that uniquely aligns with your individual passions, interests and life circumstances. (I'd be happy to partner with you to do this. Just drop me a line and we'll set up a time to talk.)

Meantime, think about this: When was the last time you took an entire day of genuine "Sabbath" — no people, no responsibilities, no television or internet or cell phone or any other electronics, just a day of rest alone with God and your own thoughts? If that idea sounds scary or boring to you, maybe it's even more important for you to explore it. Aren't you curious what you might be missing?

"We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence...We need silence to be able to touch souls." — Mother Teresa

What other insights or questions do you have about leadership rhythm and establishing a Rule of Life? Leave a note in the comments, or drop me a line via my contact page and we’ll set up a time to talk 1-on-1.

Also, check out my companion posts on Leadership Capacity and Leadership Pace.

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