Joanna Gaines was “full, but running on empty” as she battled burnout

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Joanna Gaines was “full, but running on empty” as she battled burnout

November 3, 2022 - Jim Denison, PhD

In this Nov. 6, 2018 photo, Joanna Gaines poses for a portrait at The Greenwich Hotel in New York to promote her book "Homebody: A Guide to Creating Spaces You Never Want to Leave." (Photo by Brian Ach/Invision/AP)

Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper fame sits on a chair in a well-decorated room

In this Nov. 6, 2018 photo, Joanna Gaines poses for a portrait at The Greenwich Hotel in New York to promote her book "Homebody: A Guide to Creating Spaces You Never Want to Leave." (Photo by Brian Ach/Invision/AP)

“Be still before the Lᴏʀᴅ and wait patiently for him.” —Psalm 37:7

Joanna and Chip Gaines are two of the best-known evangelical Christians in popular culture. Their long-running home improvement show, Fixer Upper, was one of HGTV’s highest-rated franchises ever and was nominated for two Primetime Emmys. The couple has expanded into restaurants, home décor, a realty company, and a TV network.

However, in a personal essay for the winter issue of her Magnolia Journal, Joanna opened up about her experience with burnout. While expressing deep gratitude for all the ways she and her family have been blessed, she writes: “I knew I couldn’t keep going the way I have. It’s hard to explain how I was feeling. I was grateful beyond measure, but exhausted. Loved, but feeling unworthy. Full, but running on empty. And because my world kept me busy, I could still feel the wheels of my life humming. What became harder to tell is where they should be headed.”

In writing her memoir, which is set to release on November 8, she was able to reflect on her life in a way that made her more intentional about being present in the moment. She says, “When I look back next time, I don’t want to see a kind of kaleidoscope life—out of focus and jumbled.” Instead, she continues, “I want to live the next season of this beautiful life in focus.”

“Take away my life”

Joanna Gaines is a committed believer who experienced burnout in the midst of great success. She is not the first, nor will she be the last. Job in his travails comes to mind immediately, as do David fleeing from Saul, Moses leading his people through the wilderness, and Peter after his denials of Christ.

But no one in Scripture pivoted from incredible success to deep personal discouragement more starkly than the prophet Elijah. In 1 Kings 18, “the fire of the Lᴏʀᴅ” fell on the altar he constructed (v. 38) and the people fell on their faces and said, “The Lᴏʀᴅ, he is God” (v. 39). However, as soon as wicked Queen Jezebel learned of Elijah’s triumph over her false prophets, she vowed his death (1 Kings 19:2).

So the prophet ran for his life, traveling from Mt. Carmel in the north to Beersheba in the south (v. 3), a distance of 120 miles and as far from Jezebel as he could go. Here, he “asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O Lᴏʀᴅ, take away my life’” (v. 4).

But God sent an angel to sustain him (vv. 5–7), and Elijah “went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God” (v. 8). Here he complained again to God: “The people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (v. 10). God responded in a “low whisper” (v. 12) to his prophet, calling him to anoint new kings and a new prophet to continue his ministry (vv. 15–17).

And he assured Elijah that he had “seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (v. 18).

God “remembers your sins no more”

Like Elijah, you and I can face seasons of deep discouragement and despair. Such struggles come to us from at least three sources: sin, temptation, and circumstances.

If, like Peter, you have failed your Lord through personal sin (Luke 22:54–62), know that God has not given up on you. As he restored Peter (John 21:15–19), so he wants to forgive you and restore you to your kingdom calling.

Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind anything in your life that is displeasing to God. Now confess what comes to your thoughts specifically and honestly. Claim God’s promise to forgive all you confess (1 John 1:9), knowing that he then separates your sins from you “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12), buries them in “the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19), and “remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25 NIV).

Now, the next time guilt comes back, remember that you confessed that sin and are forgiven for it and claim the fact that grace is greater than guilt. You may need to do this one hundred times today and ninety times tomorrow, but eventually the guilt will leave and grace will prevail.

“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”

Temptation is a great discourager of God’s people as well. Satan loves to tempt us and then to tempt us to feel guilty that we are being tempted. The opposite is actually the case: the more fervently you serve the Lord, the greater a threat you are to his enemy. If he would tempt Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–10), he will certainly tempt his followers.

Name your temptation and give it immediately to God, asking him for the strength and wisdom you need. Claim his promise: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Now turn to Scripture in response, as Jesus did. Use your temptation as an opportunity for prayer, worship, and intimacy with your Lord. Note and follow this order: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). As Erasmus noted, Satan hates nothing so much as for his evil to be used for good.

“Let us not grow weary of doing good”

Circumstances can be a third source of discouragement for believers. From the stock market and rising interest rates to threats of nuclear war in Ukraine and a “worrying resurgence of tuberculosis,” today’s news can feel hopeless.

But it is always too soon to give up on God. Scripture calls us to “be still before the Lᴏʀᴅ and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” (Psalm 37:7). We are promised: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

To that end, we’ll close with an eighth-century Irish prayer that was translated into one of the most beloved hymns of the church. I invite you to pray these transforming and empowering words slowly to God today:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word; I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son; Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight; Be Thou my dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower; Raise Thou me heavenward, Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise, Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart, High King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of heaven, my victory won, May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV®️ Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®️), copyright ©️ 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.

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