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November 2008 Mar Magnusen Warning: Over-Training Ahead Burnout

Our defeats are seldom instantaneous. In reality, most of them have been long in the making. And, unfortunately, we often supply the means for our own self-ruin.

There is an old fable about an eagle and an arrow that concludes with the magnificent creature being shot down by a hunter. It is with great pain that the eagle realizes the arrow was made with one of its own feathers. It had essentially brought about its own death.
Too often we unintentionally provide the means for our own destruction. Satan knows that, as Christian athletes, some of our greatest attributes are strength, intensity, discipline and dedication to training. One more rep, one more lap, one more shot. We want to make the most of our talents.

Don’t get me wrong, drive and dedication are tremendous assets, but there is a limit to what is healthy. If we exceed those limits, it can lead to physical and spiritual burnout.

Pulled muscles, torn ligaments and stress fractures are not always immediately felt. Look back over the training load, the intensity level, and the physical and mental recovery methods, and you might find that the injury occurred a long time ago. It just took a physical manifestation of that injury for us to finally realize the damaging effects of our long-standing training practices.

Although it is a complicated concept, burnout can easily be defined as complete physical, psychological and emotional exhaustion. Its precursor? Overtraining, which is simply meeting or exceeding the body’s maximal training threshold. Arriving at this state can increase the likelihood of severe physical injury and spiritual staleness.

Unfortunately, this is the risk of soaring high. Our drive and dedication enable us to be successful. Without it, we could never refine and master our respective gifts. At the same time, however, this drive and dedication can be taken out of context and become a means for our own destruction. The same feathers that help us soar can be used to bring us down.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to use your gifts as an outward expression of your relationship with God, but sometimes we want to do too much. We quote Philippians 4:13 and think that we are invincible. Far from an invitation to go and do anything we please, this verse is an affirmation of the security we should have through a relationship with Christ and the confidence it should bring as we take on our responsibilities.

“…we want to do too much. We quote Philippians 4:13 and think that we are invincible.”

We go wrong when we start treating our lives like rubber bands. More and more, we want to do the most we can, so we stretch the boundaries of our bodies and our minds. And that’s when we break down. The rubber band stretches, snaps and is suddenly unable to perform its function. In these instances, our dedication and intensity go from healthy to unhealthy, and we risk serious physical and spiritual consequences. Your ACL tears because of that extra rep. Excessive fatigue and lack of motivation trump your passion for the game. Your personal walk with the Lord digresses because you spend too much time trying to do things for Him instead of focusing on loving Him. In that instant, in the brief moment between a blink and a tear, our athletic and spiritual lives can be changed forever.

Good thing it doesn’t have to be that way. God is the solution, and He needs to be at the forefront of our thoughts and  actions. We can train hard, we can be intense and we can be proactive, godly servants; but if our perspective is not God-centered, then our actions, however well-intentioned, can too easily lead to regression instead of progression.

When we train, is it for the glory of God or for our own ego? Being involved in our church, joining another fellowship group—did God place those on our hearts, or did we? It is always easier to do more, but much harder to do less. Once more has been done, it cannot be undone. Once we are injured and the body breaks, all we can do is wait for it to be put back together, then sit and think about how our paths might have been different if we had just been more careful in our preparation.

Burnout is not what God wants for us. True, we are tested, and, through adversity, we may return stronger than ever, but there is also the chance that irreparable damage has been done. Therefore, we must not only be smart in how we approach our faith and our sports, but also in how we recover. To do this, we must A.C.T.:

Awareness of our physical and spiritual state:
We know the physical demands of our sport, and we know the spiritual needs of our community. At the same time, though, we also need to have an acute awareness of our own physical and spiritual status. Poor performance, apathy, slower than usual recovery, overuse injuries, sleep disturbance, mood changes, increased anxiety, low motivation, physical and mental exhaustion—all of those combined with a loss of desire or passion are just a few signs and symptoms of overtraining and burnout. It is easy to become overloaded with physical, social and psychological concerns, and the first action we should take is assessing ourselves so that we have an awareness of just how close we are to exceeding our healthy threshold.

Consider your current workload:
After the initial assessment, we must evaluate our current load. You may need to err on the side of caution with your athletic training and church/ministry service. You can always do a little more the following day, and no feelings will be hurt if you tell your church or community leaders that you need to more carefully examine your schedule before committing to a new project. Assess yourself and then your workload. God knows your heart, and He knows your intentions. As Hebrews 6:10 tells us, God will not overlook your works and the strength you showed in serving His Church.

Train hard, recover harder:
Finally, give yourself adequate recovery time so that you are fresh. Make sure to get enough rest between training sessions and to get sufficient sleep. Fatigue and emotional irritability, along with physical and cognitive impairment, can all result from insufficient rest and recovery. We want to serve God, and we can best serve Him when we are fresh.

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis wrote: “The proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift.” God does not need our gifts. He gave us our gifts, and His plan will be done with or without our help, yet we rejoice in the opportunities He gives us to serve Him.

Keep God in the forefront of your mind as you soar high with your gifts. Do not allow your greatest strengths and joys to become the arrows that bring you down.

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Medical Disclaimer: All information in this article is of a general nature and is furnished for your knowledge and understanding only. For serious health symptoms, always consult a physician or health professional.

Copyright 2007 Sharing the Victory Magazine

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