Ever since I was a kid, I can honestly say that I Love Lucy. The television show, the woman (Lucille Ball), the lack of Technicolor on the TV set – I love it all! One of my favorite episodes, “Job Switching”, has Lucy and Ethel working at a candy factory while Ricky and Fred attempt housework. The most memorable scene is when the girls are placed in the wrapping department where they’re ordered to wrap every piece of chocolate on the conveyer belt in a wrapper. At first, the chocolates come out slowly but soon enough they speed past Lucy and Ethel as they shove pieces in their hats, shirts, and mouths to keep up the allusion of perfection. Looking competent, the boss orders them to “speed it up”, causing their unavoidable first day firing.
Ministry can often feel like Lucy and Ethel’s conveyer belt of chocolates. Things start off slow and we are confident in our abilities. Soon, things speed up and the only word to come out of our mouth is “yes” and suddenly we are in charge of half the ministries in the Church. We hide the fact that we cannot handle it all, we act like we have all the talents necessary to do whatever anyone asks us to do, we never ask questions or for assistance, we eat poorly and don’t exercise, we do more than God is calling us to do and eventually we burn ourselves out.
As I watched this I Love Lucy episode, I came up with the following ways to avoid burnout (and a stomachache) in youth ministry.
1. Know your giftedness
In the “Job Switching” episode Ricky and Fred come home after boiling 4 pounds of rice all over the kitchen floor with a box of chocolates as an act of surrender and defeat. They realized their giftedness and the giftedness of their wives and admitted they didn’t know how hard it was to maintain a home. We all need to know our giftedness in order to understand what God is calling us to do with those talents. Burnout happens when we try and do what we are not equipped to do instead of seeking the help of the gifted souls in our parish. We cannot force aspects of our ministry that we are not capable of handling ourselves just as we cannot force jeans two sizes too small to fit after eating a box of chocolates. Know your giftedness!
2. Ask for Help and Ask Questions
As the episode progresses, you think the men might have the edge. They decide that instead of both of them making dinner, they should share the task; one making a cake and the other making chicken and rice. However, the biggest mistake they make is that they fail to ask how to cook the food. In ministry, we need to be willing to ask the right questions and ask for help. If a parent goes to Costco every Wednesday and is willing to shop for your ministry instead of you wasting 2 hours, delegate! Also, if you don’t know how to do something, ask! No one expects you to know every answer whether it is about theology or calendaring. Be willing to say “I don’t know” but more importantly, be willing to seek the answers.
3. Don’t Hide Your Stress Level
When Lucy and Ethel start hiding the chocolates in their mouths, shirts and hats, laughter erupts. When we start hiding our stress and burnout level, it reveals itself in our fledgling health, aggressive temperament, deficient prayer life and lack of joy. Core is afraid of us, teens don’t want to be near us and we are, simply put, negative. One of the Core Values of Life Teen is authenticity and this means we need to be honest with those who love us and ask for prayer in times of stress and burnout. Often times we open ourselves up for spiritual attack when we fail to seek help and prayer support, so admit you cannot handle everything and get ready to order up a slice of humble pie.
4. Eat Right and Exercise
If I saved all the money I spent on fast food and Red Robin over the years, I would possess my own home by now. And if I selected to spend the time eating that food in the gym instead, I would be much healthier. Let’s admit it, most youth ministers don’t eat well and we don’t exercise enough. Yet, this is one way we can control burnout simply by allowing our bodies to release stress and eat well. At the end of the Lucy episode, the girls roll into the house seeking antacids from the candy the shoved in their mouths. Think of how your body will feel the next time you go home with a fast food bag in your hand at 10:00 pm or you empty out the trash from the back of your car. Stress is uncontrollable, however, what we put into our bodies and how often we exercise is within our control.
5. Have a Prayer Life
The fastest way to burnout is to do more than God is calling you to do. The only way to know what it is that God is calling you to do is spend time in prayer listening. Your prayer life is central to all that you do and when it is weakened, you will begin to do things more for your glory than for Gods. Schedule a holy hour or when you will attend daily Mass just as you would schedule your Life Nights. In those moments God will show you what He is calling you to do and not do, to add or to subtract and what you need to be all His. A lot can be sacrificed in your ministry, but your prayer life and the prayer life of your Core and teens cannot and should not be sacrificed. Turn to Him and trust that He has you and His ministry in His loving arms.
As Forest Gump once said, “life’s like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” Ministry is the same; we cannot predict what chocolate we will bite into and we cannot control how fast things will come our way. My prayer is that we will learn from a 1951 television show that laughter and prayer are the best medicine for ministry burnout.