I have attempted to conquer it numerous times, and every single time, I have failed. The marathon is a daunting challenge – and I am not alone in saying that it has defeated me every time I have attempted it. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to give it a go – maybe the marathon and I can be friends?
It always starts with so much promise – the energy and fun of the start line, the ease of the first few miles as the crowd and the runners are having fun and chatting. Generally, you head through the halfway point right on schedule or maybe a bit ahead of schedule. Through 14 or 15 you’re thinking “I got this – I’m more than halfway, I’m feeling good. I just gotta stay on pace and not get bogged down.”
It doesn’t take long after that. Somewhere in the mile 16-18 area, you just lose focus, you drift, the pain hits a little more, and you start fighting. You forget why this was important to you, you forget your plan, you get distracted. You aren’t sure if it hurts more to walk or run, but you sure that it all hurts.
Then around mile 22 or 23, you’re running again. You’re behind schedule now, and you definitely don’t have the energy to make up for lost time. You have so many blisters and cramps you can’t count them all, but you’re moving again. I wouldn’t say you’re feeling awesome, but you know you’re going to make it now.
So many things in life seem to have stages just like this – the honeymoon beginning, the smooth trails for a while, the bad patch where you aren’t sure what was wrong with you when you signed for it, and the homestretch.
Our spiritual life has times like this, and as youth ministers, we’ve seen it happen countless times. Our teens head into this seemingly every retreat and conference weekend – the excitement of going through a spiritual peak with a community, the good stretch of renewed faith following the retreat, the rough valley that hits soon after – and (we hope) the recovery that comes from good prayer habits and support from the parish and community.
I’ve also definitely gone through this as a youth minister – probably almost every year I was in youth ministry. The year starts great with adding a few new core members, having a great core training/social/planning weekend, getting into the year with a big kick-off and sailing through the new year with good momentum and fun events, with a retreat mixed in. Somewhere in that late winter, it always seem to hit.
Maybe it’s the dark earlier that makes your nights seem later when you’re turning off the lights alone. Maybe it’s the cold. But I always seemed to lose focus around here – worrying about numbers and fundraising goals. I forgot the real reasons I was in youth ministry and the blessing of the call and started thinking about the “work” I was burdened with.
It didn’t usually take me too long to figure out that I was getting distracted and losing heart. But sometimes, when you’re in the middle of it, and the bad patch hits, you’re too zoned in to recognize it and move past the negativity. Sometimes it takes a friend or mentor to remind you of what brought you to the start line in the first place. And running to prayer and renewing myself in the sacraments is really the only refuge here. Listening to God remind me of His call. Allowing God to run the ministry, rather than feeling like I was the show-master.
After a while of renewing myself through prayer I could feel myself get excited for spring retreat and the awesomenss that would be our summer events. The excitement would build back up – just like the homestretch of a race.
So many parts of life seem to have this bad patch – this lull – this break in concentration and focus. And the marathon and my years in ministry have taught me the importance of “gutting it out.” Staying faithful to what God has called you to do, consistently listening to Christ to lead you in your life, your spirituality and in youth ministry. We know that there will be lots of good times, and we know the next bad patch is somewhere around the corner.
Staying faithful, courageous and fearless in our “YES!” to God will get us through.