I presented recently at a Diocesan meeting of youth ministers. I was given the topic, "How to Stay Spiritually Healthy in Ministry." The first thing I thought of was how to stay physically healthy: diet and exercise, avoid junk, get good sleep, and friends who support and encourage you. So I came up with five parallel habits for spiritual health:
- Spiritual Nourishment (spiritual reading, retreats, service work etc.)
- Daily Prayer: 30 minutes a day, just like exercise.
- Avoid Junk like romance novels, trashy TV, etc.
- Sleep - also important spiritually
- Christian Friendships
These five habits can be a helpful start, but they will never be enough for you to stay spiritually healthy. That is because God is a Person, not a bunch of vitamins and veggies. Spirituality is a Relationship; I needed good relationship advice. So I turned to a recent episode of Adventures in Imperfect Living where Mac Barron and Greg Willits talk about what it takes to be a good husband. I pulled five thoughts from their conversation:
- I could not have known how much I needed God. The longer I spend in ministry, the more I need God. I used to be able to go days and sometimes weeks without really thinking of God. Now I find it hard to make it through a morning without help. I have become more and more dependent on God the longer I have been in ministry. The truth is I was born dependent on God; I just keep trying not to notice it.
- Put this friendship first. Greg talks about how important it is that your spouse comes first and your kids come second. Too many ministers think, "It's all about the kids." They are too busy with the work of the Lord and forget the Lord of the work. That's when bad things start to happen.
- Spend time with your Friend. Good couples make quality time for each other on a regular basis. You need quality time with God. Your relationship can't flourish if you won't invest in it.
- Keep a record of your Friendship. When did you first meet? How did you fall in love? St. Theresa of Avila admits that her religious vocation was really a "marriage of convenience." She had things she wanted to do with her life and becoming a nun allowed her to do them. It was only after 10 years of marriage that she started to fall in love with the Lord. So don't be too upset if you haven't fallen in love yet with Jesus. But it's important to make note of where you have been together and how He has spoken to you and moved in your life.
- Listen to your Friend. You can nod and smile, but are you really listening to your spouse? The same thing often happens with God. We sit in prayer but we're not really listening. We need to learn the voice of Lord and listen carefully. We also need to learn the voice of the Enemy and learn to ignore him.
All this is very good for staying spiritually healthy, but it's not exactly about ministry. Here are four thoughts specific to ministry:
Ministry is a Bicycle Built for Two
For those who are new to ministry or stuck in a rut, the temptation is to believe that success depends on me. "I don't see anyone else working with these teens so I guess I'm the one who has to make something happen here." We fall into the temptation to try and limit our ministry to the resources we have. Only when ministry stretches us far far beyond our abilities do we begin to discover that Jesus is actually powering the ministry from behind. You are not alone.
Stop Using Jesus
Once you have discovered the amazing power of Jesus working through His poor ministers, you can begin to use Jesus. By this I mean we make the plans and set the goals and decide what success looks like. But when God's plans, goals, and successes look different we can become frustrated. God seems to not be "coming through" for me. Ministry is a team effort. Not only do you and Jesus have to peddle together, you have to let him steer the ministry.
Kathy Kanavy talks about the place that God is loving you and you are receiving his love. She calls this place, "Home." Where is "home" for you? Perhaps it is the prayer spot you use in the morning. Perhaps it is a favorite scripture passage that speaks to you, or an image from prayer, or a word or phrase. For me, the image of a waterfall is a sign of God’s love. The Father is constantly pouring out his love to me. Mary helps me receive all that God wants to give. When I am celebrating Mass or listening to a penitent, I need to relax into the "waterfall" of God's love.
Conversely, the temptation is to leave "home" when things get frustrating. You have a long day at the office and despite your hard work, things aren't coming together. You come home feeling like a failure and are tempted to flip on the TV, open a romance novel, get that ice cream out of the freezer, etc. You know that voice. Don't listen to that voice. Instead, go "home." Find your place of love, be with the Lord, receive His love, give him your struggles. You can always go home. It is within you and around you at all times. Learn to live there.
Enjoy the Ride!
A journey with God is incredibly fun and enjoyable once we learn to stop trying so hard to steer the rollercoaster. Allow the Lord to set the priorities, provide all the means, and bring about the fruit that He is looking for. You're just part of an incredible journey. Let the Lord lead you and you just enjoy the ride.
Thanks for reading my thoughts. I would love to tell you that I'm an expert in spiritual health, but it's not true. I continue to struggle and learn every day. These thoughts are the fruit of lots of trial and error. I'd love to hear your thoughts as well. God bless you in your ministry!