“Lord, its only 2:00 in the afternoon – why am I so tired?” I confess I’ve had that thought very often during busier seasons of life, such as the end of seminary, my internship in DC, and my job here. Life is very busy for me these days. Ministry can sometimes feel like trying to drink an entire lake. Its a consuming task. There are always more students to spend time with, more details to attend to, more projects to squeeze into an already busy schedule of meetings and events and contact time. I’m a pretty pronounced introvert, so being in a heavily relational job like youth ministry is very challenging for me. But I’m learning that there are some basic things that I can do that really help me stay fresh amidst a busy schedule.
1) The biggest thing I am learning is that its most often not the amount I work, but the way I work, that leads to burnout/fatigue. Am I living in my gifting and visiting my areas of weaknesses, or am I living in my weaknesses and only visiting my gifting? Visiting our areas of weakness is good because it humbles us and makes us trust God and value other people who are different from us. If we never step outside of our comfort zones and work on things we are not naturally good at, we become lopsided and eccentric. But living in our weaknesses is not sustainable over the long haul.
It helps me to stay in my gifting when I realize: what I actually love doing – what makes come alive – is why God has called me here. I love teaching. I love spending time with students. I love talking with others about their spiritual lives. I love planning times of corporate worship. I literally have joy every day because of the opportunity to do these things. While I want to keep growing in my weaknesses, too, its liberating to realize that the way God has wired me is not an accident, but a strategy, and that focusing on my God-given passions is not wrong. Though sometimes the demands of my schedule don’t allow it, I’m trying to spend at least some time each day serving others from my passions.
2) I am learning to say no sometimes, and learning to let things drop sometimes and not be a perfectionist. By focusing on the finite things that I am able to do, I create space for others to fill the needs I cannot meet. When I try to do everything myself, I inadvertently deny others the ability to help me. I am learning that trusting and leaning on the people God has put around me is absolutely essential. I’m also learning that being flexible and adapting to others’ visions and habits is essential. I need other people. Self-reliance is not an option.
3) I am blogging less (perhaps you’ve noticed), and in general focusing less on my personal study projects. God is calling me into a new season of life, in which I will not get to read as much as I would like, and as much as I have in the past. I can truly say that I embrace that calling with joy, because I will now learn in new ways (like how to lead, and how to preach), and the point of life is not knowledge, its Jesus. As I surrender my passions for study to Christ and his purposes for me, I find life opening in new ways and am conquering old fears and experiencing true joy.
4) I’m learning to be both disciplined and creative about my down time. Sometimes my temptation is to simply collapse in front of the TV after a long day. I’m learning that while that might be the most initially relaxing, its not the most rejuvenating long-term. Recreation, like anything else, can be done carnally or spiritually. It takes work to rest well! I have to put thought into it, and effort. But then, its more life-giving in the long-run. Life is not found in TV. Life is not found in being like a zombie whenever I have free time. I want life. So lately, instead of watching TV, I’ve been helping Esther set up the house of Christmas, and learning a song on piano. I try to play the piano once a day for at least 5 minutes. Its soothing, and it slows me down. (I don’t really play much, but I am trying to learn a song or two.) Its amazing how refreshing down time can be when I put effort into it!
5) Exercise is a must for me. For me these days, its hiking. I love it. There are some awesome trails within walking distance of our house. Its great exercise, and so refreshing to be out in the beautiful San Gabriel Mountains. A good hike in the middle of the day can re-energize me to work the rest of the afternoon and even into the evening.
6) I am learning to work with rhythm and balance, rather than frantically. My personality is such that left to myself, all work would be hyper-work. Think of the difference between flooring it and being on cruise control when driving a car. I can “floor it” the whole time I am working before I even realize what I am doing. I love to accomplish, and I love working hard, so its easy. But I’m learning to pace myself, so that I can more productive over the long-term. So now, if I notice that I am in hyper-drive one day, I will try to work more calmly the next day. I don’t work multiple days into the evening if I can help it. I deliberately slow down sometimes, even when I don’t think I need it, so that I can speed up later.
7) The gospel. There is a difference between starting out the day with the peace of Christ guarding my heart, and starting out the day rushing at my tasks like William Wallace rushing at the British with a battle axe. Prayer makes a difference. Doing devotions makes a difference. Personal worship makes a difference. (Shocking, right?) Above all, not walking out my front door down to my office until I have thoroughly reflected on the fact that my sins are forgiven makes a difference. There is fresh energy in that reality every day. If it seems stale, I think about who God is to forgive, and what sin has been forgiven, and how it came to pass that it could be forgiven, and what joys I know because it is forgiven. It makes the difference for the rest of my day.
As I gear up for the busy spring, my greatest desire is that Jesus would be greater than ministry in my life. I want to know his power and love so deeply in my life that ministry is the overflow of His fullness, not main thing in my life. I believe that is possible, and I am asking God for it.