Let’s be honest, it’s easy to get fatigued in youth ministry. It’s the way things are when the people you’re ministering don’t share your joy for being Catholic.
Pope Francis wrote a great book called, “Open Mind, Faithful Heart: Reflections on Following Jesus” and in it he writes:
“Those who work in ministry can sometimes suffer from pastoral fatigue. It is usually an effect (and symptom) of inconstancy and spiritual apathy. Doing justice by God’s faithful people means being ever constant in pastoral ministry. It means responding eagerly to people’s sometimes tiring requests to be anointed (touched) by God at any moment—through blessings, words, and sacraments.”
Francis breaks it down for all of us ministers: Our fatigue comes from our lack of faith and commitment in serving God’s people. Harsh, I know, but he’s right.
Think about all the obstacles we go through in our day-to-day ministry. We live in a world of late sign-ups, last minute changes, double bookings, paper jams, and did I forget to say #TechnologyProblems? Moreover, we venture into the teenage jungle of low self-esteem, depression, and even suicide. There’s an endless amount of things that can go wrong in our ministry to teens and the easiest thing we can do is give up. However, if we take the call of Jesus seriously, we must be immersed in the messiness of life.
Take the Holy Family for example.
We know their story evokes beauty and grace but it wasn’t the perfect reality they imagined. In the beginning of the infancy narratives, Mary “mysteriously” becomes pregnant and Joseph almost decides to leave her. Moreover, the family is displaced from their home, and when the time comes to give birth, no one takes them in. It’s here that I imagine Joseph and Mary praying for a different reality. I imagined them wondering where God was in this mess.
However, I also imagined Joseph taking a long, deep breath, gazing at Mary with unwavering faith, and saying, “We’re going to make this work. God is with us.” And in Mary’s agony, Joseph found shelter in the stable of a barn and they gave birth to our Savior, amidst the animals and cold straw.
In another part of the book, I think that Francis speaks prophetically about a lot of our lives when he says that the enemy comes in “giving us a utopian (a perfect world) vision that refuses to take seriously the times, the places, and the persons among whom we carry out our pastoral mission.” He explains that we must accept the rhythms of life, letting go of whimsy and fantasy. It would have been easy for Mary and Joseph to give up, wishing for a different reality, but they accepted the one they had and never lost hope.
In the same way, we need youth ministers who accept the rhythms of life, who are willing to let go of whimsy and fantasy, because, by now, we ought to know that pastoral work in our parishes “has nothing of fantasy; it is very concrete.” Francis continues, pastoral work “demands reflection, intellectual effort, and prayer, but the greatest amount of time must be spent basically in doing ‘works of charity.’”
We are in the business of serving people through works of charity — not creating fantasy and whimsy. The more we understand this, the more we can open ourselves to God’s plan, asking, “Lord, what can I do next?” and not, “Lord, why isn’t this working?” The enemy loves the when we get frustrated because it leads to fatigue and self-destruction.
Being a youth minister is a job fit for a humble servant, one who remains constant in their concrete works of charity, serving to create a space for grace — even when it seems like you’re in the bottom of the pit. We serve by creating spreadsheets, tracking permission forms, and suffering through paper jams. Moreover, we serve by being present in awkward conversations and sitting patiently with teens in their sorrow.
The foundation of youth ministry is a constant gift of self.
So, Lord, what I can do next?
Pope Francis. “Joy and Perseverance.” Open Mind, Faithful Heart: Reflections on Following Jesus. The New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2013: 19-23
Art by: Almeida Junior, “The Flight of the Holy Family”.