Christine Caine On Spiritual Burnout

Just one year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, it’s apparent no one made it out of 2020 unscathed; everyone shifted on some scale during the year. No one seemed especially prepared emotionally or spiritually for the difficulties that 2020 would bring — except for maybe Christine Caine. 

Caine, a spiritual “big sister” to many, began working in ministry in the 1990s. Over the last three decades, she has spoken at countless events and conferences around the world, started a global anti-trafficking organization, founded an empowering women’s ministry, poured into believers young and old — and that’s just the highlights. Her foot has been full force on the gas pedal for nearly 30 years, and she never planned on slowing down.

That all changed five years ago when Caine experienced what she calls “the most painful season of my Christian life.” Within a matter of months, Caine lost her mother, her brother’s wife, and her husband’s sister and brother-in-law. Coupled with her losses was a deep betrayal from a close friend and massive global issues (you may have blocked out 2016 along with 2020 so think MeToo movement, immigration policies, shifting world politics, etc.), and Caine found herself in a tumultuous season. 

“I think probably the best way to word it is like this hurricane hit me that was category five. Like a perfect storm came,” Caine said. “A lot of us felt the ground had come out from under us in a way. I was trying to process everything on a macro, external level and then internally with what was going on with me.”

She pushed through even as her body was beginning to grow weary in the fight. She lost sleep, couldn’t slow her mind down, even experiencing a mild panic attack at one point. Caine kept running full speed ahead through everything without coming up for much air. She was focused on finding answers and helping others, just like she always had. 

As she was trying to keep all the plates spinning, she sat down with her husband Nick one night to watch a show about Navy SEALs participating in Hell Week — a training exercise meant to break down soldiers by putting them through grueling physical, mental and emotional tests. While watching the show, Caine had a breakdown of her own. 

“I told Nick, ‘This is how I feel, that I’ve been dropped out of the helicopter — and I know I could make it. I’m not going to die. I’ve been here before. I know the ocean is not going to kill me. I’ve got this spiritual fortitude to do this. But for the first time, in 30 years of following Jesus, I don’t know if I want to.’”

After finally admitting to herself that she couldn’t keep going with her foot on the gas pedal, Caine began to dig deep into how she had reached this spiritual burnout. She came to realize that over time, through her trials and turmoil, she had started drifting. “Not like drifted from obedience to Christ,” Caine explained, “but I had drifted from a true passion for my purpose.”

Drifting, according to Caine, is not necessarily walking away from faith. Rather, it is anchoring your passion in something that is not strong and secure, something other than Jesus himself. Drifts occur when people allow the shifts of the world — whether the shift occurs on a large scale like a pandemic or a personal scale like friendships — to draw them away from Christ.

“Every day you wake up and there’s a shift, there’s just a shift every day. So if our anchor’s not firm and secure, we’re just not going to make it,” Caine cautions. 

Even for someone like Caine, it’s easy to find yourself adrift. The world is inundated with so many distractions that don’t really look like distractions. They can be minor distractions that bring relief in the midst of a difficult time, like an interesting new show to watch every night. Or the distraction presents itself as something else, like hype instead of passion. 

“Hype is what a lot of us have mistaken for passion. Hype gives us a certain feeling, but then you need the next event or the next whatever,” Caine said. “Passion is something that is internally regulated by the spirit of God, despite what’s going on around you.”

Caine had come to realize in herself that for years she had mixed up her passion for God with hype for God. She had been looking for the next stimulation to keep her going, something that would help convince her she was anchored and rooted. What she came to realize was that the drift she was going through was not because life around her had shifted, but rather becasue she had “some toxic stuff” embedded in her heart that allowed her to drift. 

“That hype was masking some things that were going on in my head,” Caine explained. “Insecurity, fear, doubt, disappointment, discouragement, disillusionment — a number of things. Stuff I didn’t talk about, because, you know, the next ‘hype thing’ was going to cover that.”

Not anchoring her life to hype meant Caine had to answer deep questions. Questions she thought she had addressed long ago but realized she actually needed to constantly reflect on. Was God enough for her? What was motivating her walk with Christ? What was her anchor tied to?

It was only when the hype had been stripped away that Caine was able to see her anchor had drifted out to sea. As Caine began wading through her own drifting, she realized that anchoring herself to Christ had to be her main priority. Through integrating a variety of ways to stay connected with God, Caine found herself drifting back closer and closer to Him. 

Her spiritual practices were nothing new or shiny; instead, they were simple, biblical basics that to this day keep her anchored to Christ. Caine’s spiritual disciplines look like leaning on her friends to help her draw near to God when she feels particularly far from Him, praying daily and intentionally, and keeping her time in the Word fresh. “I mix up my intimacy with Jesus. It’s not going to be the same every minute,” Caine said. 

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The temptation for the next hype is still present in Caine’s life, as it is in everyone’s life. Some days it’s still hard for Caine to stay close to God, as life is not always “warm and fuzzy.” On those days, Caine reminds herself of John 15 and the importance of abiding in the vine, even when abiding just looks like normal, everyday routine faithfulness and obedience. 

“To a body and a vine, there’s a lot of dirt and there’s a lot of dung and you just got to hang in there,” Caine explained. “I think we often romanticize [abiding] — that it’s got to be this warm, fuzzy, Jesus loves you, kumbaya. Then eventually we find out it’s not great all the time, and we don’t know what to do with ourselves. Then we get riled up about something else. So we’re looking for this next hit all the time, rather than going, let me just rest in Jesus and do the hard work of what it is to build a committed lifelong relationship as a follower of Jesus.”

After years of practically abiding in the vine through the high, low and mundane days of life, Caine is sharing with others how they can, and must, anchor themselves to Christ. Caine’s latest book, How Did I Get Here? Finding Your Way Back to God When Everything is Pulling You Away, explores the key principles to anchoring your life to Christ.

“After what I went through in 2016, I feel like the Lord was like, ‘I’m prepping you. You’re going to go to hell and back because everybody else is going to go in there in a couple of years.’ That’s how I felt. It was like a prep thing that I had to go through spiritually. It made me go back to everything,” Caine said of her 2020 experience.

The 2020 pandemic was the tipping point for many people who were drifting farther and farther from Christ, and many people may not have even realized they have drifted at all. Caine warns that the most dangerous drift occurs when you drift to nothing. By not anchoring your life in anything, you can find yourself lost at sea, unsure how you got there or how you can get back.

“You have to check the links in your chain because some of the stuff that we are flippant with, when a category five hurricane comes — and it will come for all of us — if you’re not anchored, you’re going to go out to sea. That’s what it’s going to come down to.

Caine knows the feeling of being adrift well. Having experienced it in her own life and putting practices to the test, Caine hopes the difficulty she had to go through five years prior provides encouragement many need to hear: you can get back from the wandering sea, and you don’t have to float away in the first place. 

“You can either practice your spiritual disciplines that are going to bring you closer to Jesus, or you will practice something else that will pull you from Him,” Caine warns, “and I think a lot of us in this season are pulling up the anchor, which is Jesus. We’re not setting it anywhere, and before we know it, we’re in really dangerous, open waters. 

“And I just want to encourage people and tell them that Jesus is this hope we have as an anchor for our soul. He is worthy. He is faithful. He is just. And in all of our wandering and all of our drifting, we’ve got to set that anchor down.”

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