Spy x Family and Spiritual Burnout

Caitlin Eha

Although many factors can cause burnout, the combination of working to prevent a war, caring for a family, and concealing a hidden identity is certainly a guaranteed recipe. And yet this volatile state defines daily life for Twilight, the main character of the anime Spy x Family.

The first half of Season 1 chronicled Twilight’s crisis (the season resumes Oct. 1 on Crunchyroll). Twilight is the best spy at the WISE agency, an organization devoted to preventing war between its country—Westalis—and the neighboring country of Ostania. In Spy x Family, Twilight receives a high-priority assignment known as Operation Strix. The parameters of the mission? Pose as an upper-class family man whose child attends the same prestigious school as an Ostanian politician’s son, then use that connection to discover the politician’s plans.

This mission leaves Twilight—whose alias is “Loid Forger”—scrambling to find a “wife” and “child” in time for the school’s admissions process. To make matters worse, Loid constantly receives additional assignments from his understaffed spy agency. The side missions repeatedly jeopardize Operation Strix. For example, Loid misses his date with Yor—a woman he thinks could become his wife—because he’s assigned to stop a smuggling ring. When Loid finally arrives at the party to meet Yor, he’s shaking, bleeding, and almost ruins the opportunity with a misstatement.

The strain of Operation Strix combined with the demand of additional missions drives Loid to a state of burnout. Many modern adults can relate to the pressure of struggling beneath an unending list of assignments. Our society seems to demand burnout. But is this how God meant us to live?

Burnout recovery begins by acknowledging we are doing too much. Like Loid, no matter how well we perform—and sometimes because of how well we perform—there will always be more we could do. Loid’s admirable skills and work ethic cause WISE to rely too heavily on him. His agency—and Loid himself—seem to have forgotten that, incredible spy or not, he’s still a human who has a breaking point.

In the book of Exodus, Moses’s father-in-law, Jethro, confronts Moses about overworking himself. The Israelites brought their problems to Moses so that he could “‘decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.’” This process took the entire day. And so Jethro told Moses, “‘You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.’” Jethro realized what Moses seemed to miss: the workload wasn’t healthy and would eventually destroy both Moses and other people.

To correct burnout, we also have to pinpoint its sources. Like Moses, Loid’s burnout is not only a result of his workload, but of how he handles it. He won’t allow himself to relax and self-criticizes if he does so accidentally. In the absence of other agents, he also won’t rely on anyone—except, occasionally, for his underqualified informant. “‘The fear of letting someone else decide [his] success or failure’” haunts him.

Our society seems to demand burnout. But is this how God meant us to live?

As recorded in 1 Kings, the prophet Elijah once felt so fearful and worn out that he despaired of life. Although God’s solution would eventually involve an incredible encounter with God and the appointment of Elisha to assist Elijah, God began by tending to Elijah’s neglected physical needs. “All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat,’” 1 Kings 19: 5-6 tells us. Huge problems can be sources of burnout, but so can simple needs that have been overlooked for too long.

After identifying the sources of burnout, we have to address them properly. By Episode 12, Loid starts to realize the need for change—unfortunately, his solution is to “do more.” One night, Loid walks home after an extra mission, swaying from exhaustion, his steps so slow and plodding that they hardly seem to move him forward. Then he overhears neighbors gossiping that his frequent absences indicate he’s a terrible husband and father. Realizing that his family—his primary mission—has been jeopardized, Loid plans an outing with them (instead of resting, as Yor suggests).

When the day arrives, Loid can barely stand. In fact, his exhaustion is so extreme that the animation depicts him like a gaunt older man—shaking as if about to collapse and die. To throw the last nail in the coffin, Loid then receives a new assignment. Burned out or not, how can he refuse when lives are at stake?

God understands our need for rest. For the Israelites, taking a day of rest was a God-given mandate. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man. . . ” God did not create us to be robots constantly churning out tasks on a to-do list. He works through us to accomplish his plans—not our plans and not the demands of others. Although God will supply our needs during difficult seasons, he won’t help us constantly work ourselves to death. Sometimes obeying God means saying “No,” even when the need appears dire. God’s ability to handle a situation isn’t dependent on our involvement.

At the end of Episode 12, Loid realizes he can’t do everything; if he pursues his enemy, he can’t retrieve the film canister he’s assigned to recover. But thanks to Yor and Anya, his adopted daughter, the rival agent is apprehended anyway. When Loid relinquishes the part of the mission that he can’t control, he finds that the resolution doesn’t depend on his efforts alone.

We live in a world that is constantly trying to burn us out. Many of us, like Loid, are also burning ourselves out. Our hectic lives are often the complete opposite of the rest that Jesus intends for us. The only way out is to acknowledge the problem and, with God’s help, develop new habits and expectations for ourselves and the people relying on us. As Loid is beginning to learn, many things are beyond our capabilities and control—but that’s not always bad. As Christians, we know that everything we can’t do rests safely in the hands of God.

Topics: TV