The Difference Between Burned Out and Tuckered Out

She was at the back dry erase board, intently reviewing the endings for seven different Spanish verb tenses. It was a crazy hard test I was about to administer.

“I studied these for three hours last night,” she said.

“Wow, I’m really proud of you for putting in the work to learn these,” I said.

“Thank you,” she said.

Then we talked about how learning comes quickly for some but takes a lot more effort for others. It doesn’t come easily for her, and I praised her for sticking with it until she felt confident about the verb endings, even though she was worn out.

Working Hard is Good

A few years ago, I would have been devastated by the news that a student had worked that hard for a test in my class, but I’ve since come to grips with the fact that school is hard. Learning is hard. Acquiring a new language is hard. It requires intense labor, and there’s no short cut.

It’s okay to work hard.

Yesterday someone said to me that I looked really tired at a meeting the night before. She expressed concern that I was going to get burned out in a new endeavor at church and that I needed to take care of myself. It was a fair observation, and I appreciated the concern.

But the Lord had been talking to me, for a few months, making it clear to me that I was starting something new and it was going to require long hours, sweat, and personal sacrifice but that he was going to be with me. He promised to give me what I would need for the task he had put in front of me.

Burned Out VS Tuckered Out

So let’s talk about being burned out versus being tuckered out, because there is a difference. I’ve experienced both and know what I’m talking about. If you can discern between the two, it will help you live better.

Being burned out is when you carelessly say yes to activities without talking to God about them. It’s fueled by following cultural expectations or the expectations of others in your family or church or friend group, instead of following the Lord’s guidance for your life. It looks like the mom who feels like she has to throw extravagant birthday parties and have her kids involved in sports and dance and private music lessons. It can look like a woman who’s teaching a Sunday School class because someone guilted her into it. Or the woman who sets impossible standards for herself around decorating or holiday preparation or crafting fun for her children.

Tuckered out, however, is when you do the work God has put in front of you, and at the end of the day, your feet hurt and your brain feels like it might explode.

Tuckered out comes from saying, “Yes, Lord” when he asks you to do something. Yes to putting in the 24/7 of being a mom and to being a help to your husband. Yes to serving in your church or community where he asks you to serve. Tuckered out comes with something that burnout doesn’t offer: joy.

When you’re doing what you know God has shaped you to do, there is joy in pleasing the King –joy that might require a foot rub or a hot soak in the tub come bedtime. But a joy that makes all the hard work worth it.

Working in God’s Will

Right now, my new endeavor at church is without a doubt something God has asked me to do, and it is seriously hard. It’s adding probably 8-10 hours per week of work to my life, including more meetings, a lot of planning, and increased communication with more people. But I’m in the sweet spot of God’s will, and it’s okay for me to put my hands to the plow and work up a sweat.

My soul is most alive in my obedience to God and this joy shadows fatigue.

So right now, at the beginning of the new year, get a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. Make one column that says “Activities by God’s design for my life” and one that says “Activities by the world’s design for my life.”

List each of your commitments in the appropriate column and then pray. (Have you prayed about these before? Asking God what he wants you to do? What’s important to him?) Be ready to start whittling away any activities that aren’t designed by God for you. You’ll still be working hard because that’s what good women do. See if your joy doesn’t increase when your activities come from a loving Father instead of a demanding culture.

Blessings from Montana,


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