Does the Word “Burnout” Erode Mental Health? {Book Club}

So thankful for Robynn kicking off this week and our spring series with her post yesterday. To dive into Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission written by Robynn and co-author Sue Eenigenburg is a bit of a dream come true. 

Last summer my friend Joann Pittman attended a Pakistani M retreat in Colorado Springs, CO (USA) and I volunteered to pick her up at the airport and drive her to the retreat center and stay for lunch. I’d met Marilyn Gardner online (Joann introduced us) and I was looking forward to meeting her in person, albeit briefly.

Before lunch, Joann was part of a TCK panel and I was happy to attend. Hey, I’m a bit of a geek, so any chance to listen to panels or lectures, is my happy place. The panel was introduced.

Robynn Bliss was on the panel.

I sat up. Wait, I know that name.

Robynn Bliss of Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission.

Robynn Bliss co-author of a book I have nearly memorized.

Robynn Bliss.

And I was supposed to just sit there and listen for what seemed like forever before I could pounce on her?! Poor Robynn. She’s a lovely, normal human being and here I was after the panel ended gushing on about how I had been the Member Care Director for an organization for over 10 years. How I chose a book each year for the Member Care Personnel to use for our professional development and how we used Expectations and Burnout for all our people, men and women. How I have taken their material and created modules around the six different areas (self, sending org, sending fellowships, team, culture, and God) during Orientation to the Field. How meeting her was so unexpected and I was sorry I was coming across as a crazy person. How much their book had influenced and formed my understanding of expectations. How I really am normal, but I am a bit excitable. How some day I dreamed of Velvet Ashes using this book in the book club.

We didn’t get a picture taken, but here I am with Joann and Marilyn. By this point I had food in me and had calmed down.

Joann, Marilyn, Amy

Today we’re talking about chapters one and two. I liked reading about how this book and research came about. Later this month Sue is going to going to be interviewed by me, what questions would you like to know about this study? I’m curious to hear about how many organizations she was able to survey.

This struck a chord with me, “Many M leaders and caregivers have observed that most people going overseas have very high expectations of what can be accomplished”. I know where you are, what you are doing, and what your senders expect can all mix together to create different pictures for each of us. But let me just say, my picture never looked like the BIG names I’d grown up hearing. As I look back, I realize how out-dated some of my models were.

Hudson Taylor entered a very different China than I did. What to learn from and emulate and what to read as historically interesting and informative?

Oh and the quote from one of the surveys?! “How psychologically wedded some people are to being M’s.” Wow. I know it’s a special call to be in our line of work. But I also know people (both within and without) have placed us on a pedestal. We’ve talked about this before (check out the comments), but what about this struck you afresh in light of expectations?

I appreciate that this book is part research and part rooted in one person’s story. As Robynn shared her story (and that of her family), what struck you? When she ended the chapter this way: “On the way to the airport, I looked out the window and wondered what God was doing. We were broken people leaving. We were a fragile family. I wondered if we’d ever be back again. I think I even wondered if we’d ever be OK again.”

I couldn’t wait to keep reading and learn more of her story.

Robynn shared how taking vacations, not in light of burnout but normal needing of refreshing, was helpful. What have you found to be helpful to have built into daily, monthly, and quarterly schedules to restore you? Your marriage or your family? What have you tried that hasn’t gone so well (for you)?

See you in the comments :),


P.S. Next week chapter 3: Exploring expectations of our roles

Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Photo Source : Unsplash


  1. Elizabeth March 9, 2015

    This is not about the ideas in the post (which I might return to later if I have time) but can I just say I loved your description of how exciting it was to meet Robynn and Marilyn?!?

    1. Amy Young March 11, 2015

      Meeting Robynn was all so unexpected it threw me off my game. Yeah, let’s go with that :). Not that I’m a NUT!

      1. Marilyn March 15, 2015

        I am SOOOO sorry that we didn’t get a picture of you and Robynn! It was the first time I’d seen Robynn in over 25 years – I had last seen her as an 18 year old so it was a pretty amazing time!

  2. Lydia March 10, 2015

    I think taking time out for rest and regrouping is crucial. My husband was on the field before we were married and when I got here a year ago our field director gave us instructions to get out of the country once a month for the first year. We are within an hour of two other countries, so that’s not a difficult thing to do. It’s been a lifeline some months – even if we’re going for grocery shopping. One thing I find difficult is resting at home. We have Sundays and Mondays “off,” but Sundays are for church and we often end up hosting the youth we’re working with at our house for lunch or coffee after church. Neither of those is refreshing for me, since I’m still struggling to learn the language. And then Mondays I look around my home and realize I’d be much more refreshed if it was clean… so I end up spending my day off vacuuming and doing laundry. Today my husband is taking a much needed rest day skiing by himself… and I’m trying to figure out what to do with myself that would be refreshing! One thing I did is something I’ve been putting off for a long time – organizing an itunes playlist for worship music. I think I’ll work on an art project. It’s been a long time since I worked on one.

    1. Amy Young March 11, 2015

      I agree with the importance of taking breaks :). I’ve heard of the illustration of us being like a mattress. As long as it isn’t bearing weight all the time, it can bounce back when the stress is lifted. The problem is when it bearing too much weight for too log then there comes a point where it can’t bounce back.

      I don’t mean to come across with a bunch of solutions, but I’m the same. If my external environment is messy, it’s harder for me to really rest. On Sunday night, could you have everyone in your family do a “10 minute pick up” where for ten minute everyone is responsible for pitching in and then enjoys some reward (popcorn, a TV show, a game together), so you go into rest day a little bit better set up to rest? Just an idea 🙂

  3. Jillian Rogers March 10, 2015

    I just started the book today, and only one thought is running through my mind. WHY didn’t I read this sooner? WHY didn’t I invest in these nuggets of truth before I started my furlough? I have laughed & cried already through the first few chapters. I think I am finally caught up & on track for next week’s discussion. Thank you, thank you, thank you Velvet Ashes & Amy for bringing such an important topic to light. I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about a book club.

    1. Amy Young March 11, 2015

      Yay! I love excited readers :)! And why … all I can say, is now, in God’s perfect timing is when he has for you to read. I (clearly!) don’t know why God didn’t have you read it earlier, but you’re here now. And for the rest of your days can live differently. NOW THAT is exciting! After I finishing enjoying these comments I’m going to read the next chapter :)!

  4. Stephany March 11, 2015

    I do not have the book yet as I am one of the archaic ones without a digital reader, but I must bring up the topic of expectations of “home-leave”/sabbaticals as a means of rest. Perhaps I am not really in a position to say too much since I have only experienced one year of leave from the field, but LW I will have a 6 month leave starting this summer, so I’m hoping this one is more refreshing than the last. The last was too long. People hear your updates and stories within the first few months and then wonder what you are doing with such a long stretch without “real work” and still depending upon support. Thus, I found a job teaching at an I.E.P. at a university. Notice the “I”– Intensive. Yes, it was a lot of work for me (and for the students.) This was partially so I could pay the rent/ car bills, and partly because I didn’t want to have to say I wasn’t working the whole year. (Don’t get me wrong– I learned a lot from the position, and it was in modules where I could work and then take off for a stretch, so that was great.) But…I expected my sabbatical to be just that– a Sabbath, and it wasn’t. This time my expectations will hopefully be more realistic– not a lot of rest, but a lot of reconnecting and vision-renewing?? Any other thoughts on how to create a rejuvenating time away from one’s regular field of service to return to another?

    1. Amy Young March 11, 2015

      Oh Stefany, you’re not archaic, you’re visual :). (And frankly I FAR prefer holding a book and underling to an ereader. So, if you’re archaic, scoot over sister, I’m with you in this tar pit.)

      I think you raise a good point that though orgs may have policies, hopefully there is some flexibility once a person/family has gone on one and knows what works for them. We might also need to own, that part of the educating piece is on us for our supporters. I can’t remember the exact quote (I”m not at home to look it up on the notebook I wrote it in, wink!) — but it’s along the line of being an overseas workers is 6 times more stressful than living in a murderzone of the inner city. I think if we share these (and other realities, I’ll find some more) in newsletters in the months building up to furloughs/Home Assignments, it helps them with their expectations of what we are doing and WHY. You do need rest and restoration. Maybe you could even buy a copy of this book for one person on the m committee of each sending church? Just brainstorming here 🙂

      1. Stephany March 14, 2015

        Thanks Amy for the ideas and the encouragement to do a better job of educating home fellowships. Here’s hoping that the upcoming “rest” is just that.

    2. Jewel March 14, 2015

      Just a note about not having a digital reader – I was so pleased when someone showed me that there is kindle for PC.  I just downloaded it and now I have Kindle on my computer without having to buy some other ‘thing’.  It was even free, so now I can read Kindle books.  I like it.

  5. Amy S March 11, 2015

    I kept thinking about how the leadership sets the tone for everyone else. I’ve seen how people get burned by burnt-out leaders.

    1. Amy Young March 11, 2015

      Amen sister. And the Amys air high five. Yes. If it gets bad enough, and I really hate to say this, talk to leadership about your concerns and maybe (in your mind) think through a timeline of when and how change will look like for them. And if it doesn’t happen, be willing to leave the org. I don’t mean to be harsh, but this subject is this important. In counseling there is a saying that health attracts health. If someone is a really unhealthy person, why would a super healthy person be attracted to them and want to get married? Sometimes we can’t change leadership, and that might mean, we need to leave. I don’t WANT it to come to that. But if they are super unhealthy … most likely you’re not going to bring them up, they will bring you down. Obviously this shouldn’t be done lightly or without seeking counseling and praying a ton, but if God releases you, Go. (you anyone, not you Amy) 🙂

      1. Amy S March 12, 2015

        This is a timely word. I will be having a conversation next week that I hope will bring some of these issues to light.  Thanks for your advice!

    2. Elisa Groth March 12, 2015


  6. J March 11, 2015

    Enjoying the book so far. Our situation is a little different, in that we are living and working in my husband’s passport country in South Asia (although he has lived more years abroad than in his own country). We have been here for just over two and a half years and I would say the first year was the hardest so far. My husband especially is dealing with disappointments of unmet expectations to do with his work. I would say this has been a bigger deal for me than my own personal expectations. We had the experience of good short breaks within the same country where we have felt relaxed and refreshed only to return to the same stresses and difficulties.

    We are currently looking forward to visiting my home country and I hope it will be a much needed time of refreshment and catching up with friends and family there.

    1. Amy Young March 11, 2015

      Oh J, this is a sticky one. Cross-cultural marriage can be SO beautiful, but as you pointed out, there can be some challenging expectation terrain for each spouse to navigate. And you hit on something else I’ve been mulling over — the idea that more people leave the field not because of personnel problems/issues (though I know some do), but because of disappointments with work. Especially being under utilized. I don’t know if that’s what it is for your husband. But I’ve seen people more ‘hurt’ by being underutilized than over. Over will wear you out, under will break your heart. Both NOT GOOD. Is there someway for your husband to talk to his leaders? Or for him to lower/raise his work expectations and maybe look for areas outside of work to meet some needs? I’m just bouncing around ideas here :). Truly sorry.

      1. Amy S March 12, 2015

        Very good point, Amy. I think in my org that people used to come and make their own way. But my generation is looking for more direction, more guidance from our leaders. We want to be strategic rather than spin our wheels for years because no one took us under their wing. But for men, if no one is advising them, they can find it very hard to admit that they have no clue what to do with themselves. As a wife, I found this very hard. I wanted to ask for help on his behalf, but didn’t feel free to do that. People get under-utilized also because no one in charge really takes the time to figure out what they are really good at. It may not be the thing they actually signed up to do!

        1. Julie March 12, 2015

          Wow.  What a timely comment.  I am a CPA and came on the field to serve as a treasurer.  My husband jokes that they found something for him to do so they could get me.  We were placed in one city for 10 months for me to train, which was longer than I needed, and not in the physical area where my husband was to serve.  So for 10 months my husband basically had nothing concrete to do, while I dove into my work.  It was hard on him, and in turn hard on our marriage.  We moved at the beginning of the year, and now he is struggling with the lack of direction in how to do what he was brought here to do.  We are new overseas workers, but second career overseas workers that left adult children and grandbabies behind.  This first year on the field has been difficult.  I have spent a lot of time asking God if He was sure about bringing us here.  In addition to all of this, I am swamped and behind at the treasurer work, and already feel burnout creeping in.  I started reading the book and hope to gain some insight and perspective to keep me upright!

  7. Monica March 12, 2015

    This is so timely for me, as I am smack-dab in the middle of our first ‘real’ Sabbatical in 15 years over overseas work.  The ‘being wed to m work’ really strikes a chord with me.  In the last few months my husband and I have had to do an overhaul in our work theology, and learn to embrace Christ’s Love for us even when we aren’t ‘perfect Ms’.  Thankful for new beginnings.

  8. Jewel March 14, 2015

    I did not understand the title.  I reread the article to try to figure out about how what word might erode mental health.  But last evening, it FINALLY made sense.  Of course I was reading the book, and I came to the place were she talks about divorce – and really, I understand.  It got me thinking.  But then realizing the faulty thinking in it.  My commitment to ‘overseas work’ is NOT like a marriage commitment.  Now my commitment to God is greater, but that is NOT a commitment to living across seas.  I am committed to following God where ever He leads or sends.  Moses lived for 30 years on the back side of the desert.  Esther lived in a King’s palace.  David was a shepherd and even when king spent many years fleeing.  Paul was a prisoner.  Apparently Noah spent most of his life simply at home, building.  We simply cannot predict how God will lead.  When I become weak and burnt out, I believe that He can use even that.

    These negative words – divorce, burnout, depression, controlling, etc – these are not words that I want attached to ME.  Yet sometimes they are the truth.  How to deal with the negative truth is tough.

  9. Brittany March 20, 2015

    Okay, I am just now diving into this book and I have already been encouraged by reading.  I think it’s safe to say that all of us are letdown by our expectations when we enter the field.  Honestly, it was encouraging to hear that even Robynn, growing up around women who were thriving in their cross-cultural environment, struggled in this area.  Are none of us immune?

    I’m struggling with some guilt because we will have been in the field just shy of 18 months when we go back “home” for a few months.  Especially as I read the chapter about how 50% of overseas workers don’t make it through their first term before going back and how the new, young overseas workers are too “soft” to survive.  Ugh.  Maybe I just can’t hack it??  But as I continued reading, and especially taking time to meditate on the 2 Corinthians passage, I was encouraged.  It’s true.  I can’t hack it.  “As God’s grace reaches more and more people…[He] will receive more and more glory.” (2 Cor. 4:15b)  He does it and He gets the glory.  And that includes His grace reaching me, and the deep, tender places in my heart as I learn to walk with Him and trust Him more.

    We are going home for a few months, but we’ll be back.  We haven’t failed and we haven’t disappointed God.  “If you left your personal overeas journey right now, if you threw in the towel, if you checked out, hung up your apron and walked away–He would embrace you and love you. (Loc. 372…can’t find the page number in the Kindle app!)”  We aren’t leaving our journey, just going home for a breather and to have a baby because I think attempting to deliver our child here (after miscarrying here last year) would be enough to send me home permanently.  We also just need some tangible loving on.  We are alone and it’s been much harder than we anticipated.  We are praying fervently that these few months at home will refresh us and energize us and launch us back here into thriving!

    1. Monica March 20, 2015

      Hi Brittany, thanks for sharing your heart.  While on Sabbatical this year (we’ve been on the ‘field’ 15 years), we’ve been going through M care counseling twice a month at Link Care.  One of things we’ve been talking about is guilt- feeling guilty about ‘going home’ for whatever reason, and worrying about ‘hacking it’, and living up to people’s expectations.  I think there is a flaw somewhere in our missiology if M workers feel this way!  We can’t compare, and I don’t even like the terms “throwing in the towel” or “hanging up our aprons”.   For some of us, leaving the field is a new beginning, and a new season in our lives… God is doing a new thing.  I realize people leave the field for a number of reasons- but it makes me sad that so many of us feel judged when we do take a break, or ‘go back for good’.  I know I’m guilty of judging people who have ‘left the field’- and have had to ask the Lord for forgiveness in that area of my life.  It’s so interesting how little things like ‘where you have a baby’, or ‘how remote your location is’, or ‘how you school kids’ can create so much competition, envy, divisiveness, and hurt feelings.  I want to stay so far away from rating the sacrifices people make, and really encourage women to embrace their season of life, create margin, and seek opportunities to serve that won’t crush them, but enhance their life and the lives of others.  Finding that balance is hard… but we’re not superheroes.  We serve a Hero that loves us, and is totally aware of our limitations, gifts, and broken places.  May your time at home refresh you and fill your cup!

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