Turtles Are Not Ninjas (and how to avoid burnout)!

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TMNT Turtles

As boys, my sons used to watch a Saturday morning cartoon called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT). The stars were four teenage turtles named after four Renaissance artists, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael. Of course, being the responsible father I was, it was necessary for me to occasionally watch this show with my sons. I had to protect my kids from any potential heresy and make sure they weren’t exposed to unnecessary violence (smile).

My youngest, Isaac, was enthralled with TMNT. In fact, after almost every program he would go Ninja on his siblings as he yelled, “Cowabunga dudes! Let’s kick some shell!” It was hilarious and annoying. In my great wisdom as a young sensei father I once tired to explain to him, “Isaac, turtles are not really violent, they don’t move like lightning, and they don’t eat pizza.” His reply was classic, “Dad, they’re mutants, of course they do!”

How do you reason with a starstruck boy?

Sadly, in our culture, we tend to make heroes out of mutants. We think the multi-millionaire executive who works eighty hours a week is a stud. The famous coach or player who lives on the road more than they live at home is someone too many wish they could become. We admire the politician or pastor who sacrifices all for the sake of the masses. We envy the Grammy-winning performer who lives out of a suitcase as he or she travels the globe.

In our more sane moments we ask, “How do they do it and survive?” But with our next breath we whisper, “Too bad I’m not famous.”

How do you reason with a starstruck adult?


I was first introduced to the concept of living with margin when I read Dr. Richard A. Swenson’s book, Margin, back in the late nineties. A friend gave it to me as a birthday gift. I devour books and love to read, but I was a bit offended when I read the subtitle, Restoring emotional, physical, financial, and time reserves to overloaded lives. To add insult to perceived injury, my buddy said, “You really need this book! I think it will change your life.”

For some reason, I wanted to go Ninja on him and yell, “Cowabunga, dude! I’m going to kick your shell!” However, he was right, and I needed to carve out some space in my life. Swenson, in fact, defines margin as “the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits.”[1] In other words, without at least a little distance between what we can do and what we should do, we are literally on the brink of a disastrous overload. We all need a little wiggle room, and that open space in our lives doesn’t hinder us, it enhances us. (Click to Tweet!)



Let’s hit the way-back button and take a look at something God implemented thousands of years ago. It’s called the Sabbath. Hang in there with me, I promise this won’t hurt (well, maybe a little).

After God set his people free from bondage to Egypt, he gave them some basic yet important things to adhere to in the Ten Commandments. The fourth commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”[2] God went on to explain that he provided six days for them to do all their work, but the seventh day was his and a day of rest. The word used here in the Old Testament is shabath, and it literally means “to intercept or interrupt.” It clearly implies a complete cessation of normal and regular activity. For the Jews, Sabbath was the practice of setting aside one day a week to take time out from life’s busy duties and demands. Sabbath is the one day when your work is done, even if it isn’t.

The concept is ancient, but for many the practice is forgotten or ignored. It’s a simple thing to understand but a difficult thing to do. However, God commanded his people to hit the pause button and produce nothing one day each week. It’s the one day when taking a break is more important than work. If by nature you’re lazy, this might be good news because it means fifty-two days a year when you can be a toadstool and not feel guilty. But if you’re a workaholic and you tend to go hard 24-7, then you’re probably speed-reading this section and rationalizing your craziness.

TMNT Elephant Rest


When you live a crazy life, you lose perspective. You often find it impossible to know peace. Everything and everybody are flying past the window of your heart so fast it all becomes a meaningless blur. Without margin there tends to be little joy in your life because delight is found in the quiet places of your soul, and it is best experienced in the moments of reflection and rest.

Hurry hurts. Rest restores. In fact, one of my favorite authors, John Ortberg, once put it this way, “Hurry is not just a disordered life. Hurry is a disordered heart.”[3] Healing happens in the margins of life, in those quiet places where you decompress.


God wants you spiritually, relationally, physically and emotionally whole. That’s always been his desire. Where did we get the foolish idea that it’s better or more spiritual to be empty?

On any given day, we are often overwhelmed with all the noise and activity of life on planet earth. We live with the radio or TV constantly blaring while our smart phone keeps alerting us to a million text messages. Tragically, we keep trying to cram as much as we can into every moment of every day, but our over-productivity becomes counter productive. More is not always more; sometimes less is more.

The “abundant life” Jesus wants for us is epic, but not insane.[4] It is full, but not crammed. In fact, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”[5] Sabbath. Margin. Rest. This is the pathway to a truly holy and healthy existence.

Here is a profound paradox: Life is too short to live it too fast. So don’t just stop once in a while to smell the roses; instead take the time to plant a rose bush and invest in your future.

Please don’t let life, even an epic life, kill you.

TMNT Rest Here Bench


[1] Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, Richard A. Swenson, M.D., Navpress, 1992

[2] Exodus 20:8, NIV

[3] John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted ~ Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, Harpercollins

[4] John 10:10, NIV

[5] Matthew 11:28, NIV

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6 Responses to Turtles Are Not Ninjas (and how to avoid burnout)!

  1. The theme of margin and balance is my soapbox, Kurt. It’s the book proposal I never sold. If you liked Swenson’s MARGIN, you’d love his 180-day reader titled, A MINUTE FOR MARGIN. It’s a book I’ll read repeatedly. Recently, I’ve cut some major, albeit beloved activities from my life. It became plain that their season had expired…at least for now. The “wiggle room” feels marvelous. I’ve done this again and again in my lifetime to keep the first things first and am always thrilled at the new adventure I discover in the “WIDER open spaces.” Your treatment of the topic in this blog is fresh, fun, and totally Bubna stylistic. So proud of you!

    • Thank you, Niki. You always know just what to say to make my day! Love and appreciate you so much.

    • Being a parent has a tendency force us to learn some things, huh? So appreciate you. Thanks for the kind words, Rebecca.

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