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Creative Burnout

Creative burnout is real.  Many creatives face it everyday in a very real way. You can ignore the dangers at your own peril. Or you can find a way to get deep, real rest.

Professional artists are like professional athletes. You worked hard to get where you are, and you developed your talents. As a professional, you have been validated. You are encouraged to spend your life using those gifts and passions.

I’ll give you the bad news first: while physical injury will most likely never threaten your career, you may still face burnout, depression, and mental blocks.

The good news is this: professional artists can make a living way beyond “retirement” age, while professional athletes run the risk of physical injury and often have only a few years or a couple decades before they have to retire.

However, the longer you work in a creative field, the more likely it is you will hit a creative wall. Whether you are creating sculptures, paintings, video games or films, you’ll probably have days where you just don’t feel like it anymore.

You may have ignored the possibility of creative burnout in the past, assuming you were immune. Then the day hits you and your excitement is gone. The blank page and the blank canvas seem overwhelming and the excitement isn’t there.

Creativity is a precious resource

We cannot constantly “push through” and expect our creativity to always generate stellar art. Your creativity, like every other part of life, needs down time to be refreshed and rejuvenated. There is a rhythm and flow to a healthy life – mentally, physically and creatively.

Benefit of rest

We need rest, because God designed us to be refreshed by sleep at night, and by the sabbath each week. The world may not understand why or think we can ‘evolve’ past the need for rest, but God’s word makes it clear -beginning with the creation narrative in Genesis 1. God rested and found pleasure in his accomplishments each day, and he took a sabbath at the end of the week to enjoy the benefits of his work. We will flourish and find greater joy and creativity when we imitate that same rhythm.

The rhythm of a sabbath in your life increases your creativity, your health, and your peace of mind. You were not designed to run a break neck speed all day, battling traffic, being pestered by dozens of phone notifications and emails, and trying to keep up with the latest news. It is toxic.

Personally, I have to remind myself to stop and celebrate my successes and the completion of a job well done (or at least done). It is all too easy to keep moving on to the next project, the next item on my to do list, and keep striving to be “efficient with my time”. The problem, which we all know, is the to do list is never fully done, and there is always some other project to tackle. We cannot run through life like a child running up the down escalator and assume exhaustion will never come for us – mentally and creatively.

Sabbath is a gift

In the New Testament we see that the Sabbath was meant to be a blessing. In Mark 2:27, Jesus himself tell us, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The point being this: God didn’t create the sabbath as another rule to burden you. No. The sabbath is a gift to you. to help you, to refresh you – to give your body a break, as well as to refresh your mind and your spirit. You can watch our video on the Sabbath for creatives here . The Sabbath is meant to be a gift. Take off one day of the week, and you will find the joy and beauty of God’s sabbath rhythm.

What about creative rest?

The sabbath has been seen as a call for physical rest when we had more physical jobs. In this technological and creative age, we need to understand our brain needs a sabbatical from the onslaught of information splintering our creativity. You need rest in order to recharge your imagination, your joy and your creativity. The sabbath is designed to give you rest while you enjoy the company of rich, deep community and remember you are much more than your work.

Sabbath rhythm suggestions

• Get rest each night of the week
• Take a Sabbath one day a week to rest, recharge and worship in community
• Exercise and get the blood and endorphins flowing
• Spend time in community with friends who will laugh with you as well as cry
• Savor the beauty in this world – From God’s creation to inspiring art, and creations of great designers

God designed you with a need not only to let go of work and stress, but to find joy in life and to find meaning in His love for you and your place in His grand story. This is what the sabbath is about. One day a week you need to rest. You also need to worship and recognize how you are designed in God’s Image. He wants to refresh more than your muscles and your mind. Honoring that rhythm will rejuvenate you on a much deeper level and boost your creativity.

Difficult seasons

There are times when burdensome bosses and impending deadlines can take over your sabbath. You may be prepping and installing art in a gallery, scoring music and directing a symphony overseas, or finalizing a massive project. Bit by bit, your obligations and deadlines can begin to encroach on that sacred day. Like a medical student during their residency, there are seasons of life where your rhythm will be disrupted. You may be working two or three jobs just to make ends meet for a season. There are also occupational hazards that people don’t realize until they are in that occupation. This is not an excuse to be unconcerned about the sabbath, but a reality many have to wrestle with.

Working seven days a week is often a seasonal reality for those who work in the video game industry, visual effects, and other parts of post-production in film. Surviving the stress and the long hours is no small challenge. Many men and women just pray that their marriage and their relationships will survive the “crunch” time.

Mini-sabbath

What do you do? If you are in leadership you can change the culture to protect the sabbath, but if you are not in leadership, you need to at least get rest when you can. Take a mini-sabbath. Pastor Tim Keller talks about micro and macro rhythms of rest in an article here.

Seasons of life may throw you a curve, but we cannot lose sight of the rhythm God designed for us. Protect the little time you have to get rest, to be with your spouse, your children, and to rejuvenate. Read your bible, pray, and listen to some worship music even if it is brief. It is especially helpful to go for a walk, get out in nature, and appreciate the beauty of creation. After all, beauty is a gift of God to soothe your soul and remind you of His goodness.

For my friends who are hard core Sabbatarians and think everyone must strictly obey the fourth commandment, please note that some people are called to difficult vocations and challenging mission fields. Daniel and Joseph didn’t take their King/Pharaoh to task over the sabbath. Also remember that Christ clarified the sabbath is a gift and a blessing. It wasn’t designed to become a burden.

Your identity is more than your work

Intrinsic to the idea of rest in the Bible is this: Don’t let your work become your identity. If all you do is work, you can lose your broader and more complex identity as a daughter or son, a parent, a friend, or a neighbor. If you see yourself as only an actor, a musician in a band, or an artist, you lose sight of your spiritual needs, your relational needs, and the important roles you play in other people’s lives. Slowly, without you noticing you will lose your peace, your joy, and your sense of purpose. We are so much more than our vocation.

Lost sabbath

Movies, plays, art galleries and TV shows rarely depict any aspect of the sabbath. Yet, according to Barna, over 50% of Americans go to church on a fairly regular basis on their sabbath.

Does art reflect culture or does art influence culture? Probably both. But either way, the lack of sabbath depicted in our cultural artwork tells us one thing: As a culture we have spiritual amnesia. We have forgotten something essential to a vibrant, creative life.

Don’t make that mistake in your life. Take advantage of the sabbath and the rhythm of rest God designed for you. It is the only way to keep the well of creativity from running dry, so you always have the blessing of new, fresh, and innovative ideas.

Creative burnout is curable

Creative burnout may not be completely unavoidable, but it is curable. Don’t give up. Don’t isolate, and don’t just push through. Take care of your soul, your heart, and your creative core. God gifted you with creativity, which is a precious gift. He wants you to care for it, protect it, and develop it. Why? Because He loves you, and He loves seeing you use the gifts He has given you.

Copyright © 2019 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.