Burnout and Cheating: Conversations with God at 3 am

As I approached my front door this evening, I was overwhelmed by the smell of something burning.  Opening the door, I realized the rancid smell was floating from my living room along with clouds of smoke.  My husband stood in the garage door taking deep breaths, trying to get some fresh air.  Owen seemed guilty, and Hannah seemed highly amused.

As it turns out, Owen mistook a packet of instant oatmeal for microwave popcorn, which created a small fire.

This is the package post fire. The other side is black ash.

Both are packaged in a brown wrapper, but beyond that, I have no idea what he was thinking.

The package clearly said, “Quaker Instant Oatmeal” and looked nothing like the popcorn, save the brown packaging.  In fact, just last night the whole family had wanted popcorn, and I had said we’re out.

As I watched a sorrowful Owen, it didn’t take me long to surmise the root of his error:  distraction.  He was watching a basketball game with his dad, and although I wasn’t home at the time, I can imagine a hurried Owen running to the kitchen between plays, grabbing the first brown wrapper he saw, tossing it in the microwave, and running back to the game.

Owen operates in distraction a lot, and it often irritates me, but not tonight.  Tonight I saw a sad little boy.  While he didn’t get in trouble – in fact, we were all laughing – he still felt terrible and asked us not to mention it (or the smell) again.

Fast forward to 3:00 a.m, I am lying wide awake.  Nothing’s really keeping me awake, but a crazy to-do list that’s ping ponging in my head.   Sleep’s eluding me, so I gather materials and sit down at my computer to chip away the list.

And, God says, “Owen is not the only one operating in distraction, Sarah.”


There’s nothing worse than seeing your worst qualities – and failures – manifested in your own children.  Like mother, like son.

I have been operating in distraction since Christmas and was so…well, distracted…that I didn’t notice.  Ok, maybe longer than since Christmas.  Ok, probably most of my life.

I operate in distraction because I overextend myself, so something – some task, person, appointment – something is always in need of doing.

If nothing is in need of doing, I create something.  Free time often equals reorganizing my cabinets or starting a new family calendar system, or…  Sigh.

While staring at the computer deciding what to tackle first, the image of Owen’s charred oatmeal package fills my mind. Then, I decide email first.  I open my email, and the first line of Mary DeMuth’s blog from Wednesday night says this: Last week I burnt out {pretty much}.

Burning…burn out…weird. Or not.

My next thought?  The word those wiser than me have warned me about:  Burnout.

I asked God, “ Amid charred oatmeal packages and emailed blog posts, what do I need to hear? I feel distracted, but not burned out.  I know burn out.  I have experienced it a few times.  This doesn’t feel like that.”

He ever-so-clearly responded, “It’s coming. And, this is not about you, Sarah, because when it comes it will hurt and impact you far less than it will hurt and impact those you love so much…your family, your friends, and most of all, those you serve.”

He reminded me of a Mark Driscoll podcast I listened to a few days ago called Real Marriage in which Driscoll details an upside down priority list.  He explains how he and his wife, Grace, reprioritize after a tumultuous decade of marriage.

Their new list? Friendship with Jesus, friendship with one another, their children, and Mark’s ministry – in that order.

No other way works.  Jesus has to be first, Steve second, Hannah and Owen third, and all other fourth.

God spoke in my heart, “Burnout is coming because I am not first.”

When He is not the center.  When He is not the motivation for ALL I/you do.  When bringing Him glory takes a backseat to my/your spouse, children, job, or volunteering (even in the church), peace is lost.  Balance is lost.  Anxiety creeps in.

And, you find yourself unable to rest – arguing with God at 3 a.m.  I settled in knowing God had awakened me and needed me to hear Him distraction free.  (Funny, huh?)

He sent me to the book of Daniel.  A book I read today while planning story time for our church’s midweek program.  I recalled once reading a life-changing book based on Daniel called Choosing to Cheat.  In fact, someone had just mentioned that book to me today during a meeting.

Argument over.  Extras Internet tabs closed. God had my attention.

We all choose to cheat.  There’s not enough time in the day to be all things to all people in all places.  We cheat our job or our children or our spouse or our God.  There’s always an exchange:  I have 20 free minutes – should I jump on the trampoline with my kids or do the dishes?  Should I read God’s word or scroll through Facebook?

Or, much bigger than dishwashing or mindless Facebook scrolling, what chunks of time I am giving away to others that belongs to my family and God?

Who am I cheating?

I can’t answer that – yet.  I plan to refocus on His word and pray. Oh, the excuses will come – I know myself all to well.  “I can’t do this or that, Lord.  If that changes, what will they do?  If I quit, who will [insert all the ways I pridefully think I am important here]?”  Yeah, yeah, says God.  We’ve been over this before and because you didn’t learn, you can traipse through it again.

Thank goodness He’s the God of second (or sixteenth) chances.   The wisdom and power are His.  His grace knows no end for me (or you!).  He loves me so much that He got my attention early just as I began operating in distraction – again.

I echo Daniel’s praise from chapter 2:

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.
22 He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.

Who are you cheating?  Ask Him.  He’ll tell you.  I just hope it’s not at 3:00 a.m.:)


  1. Girl…you need to write a book!

  2. I agree with Beth!!

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