My summers have often brought me a short break from the busyness of ministry. Summer programming adapts to account for families taking time for vacations and summer activities. I use this little breather to slow down, evaluate what I’m doing in ministry, and plan for the coming year.
But this year there was no break to be had. In the new normal of post-pandemic ministry, the pace and rhythm of serving families and adults is unchanged for me. It’s already August and I have yet to begin planning my fall ministry efforts. A few weeks ago, I told a colleague that Sunday worship was just another thing on my to-do list—something I had to fit in with all the ministry activities on my plate. That moment brought me up short, but I didn’t quite know what to do about it.
That next week I went to Mass on a Wednesday morning. As I sat in the pew a few moments before worship began, I realized that it was the first time in months that I felt a sense of rest, free from ministry duties. I settled my soul to be fully present to God. Over the next 30 minutes I felt my soul fill with grace, as I invited the Spirit of God to penetrate the busyness of my life and my ministry. I left renewed in a way that I had not been in a long time.
If you can relate, we must admit the truth—we become too busy with the work of ministry to invite God to minister to us and, in turn, to nurture our relationship with God. This has always been the chief (but hidden) hazard of the ministry life. We pour ourselves into serving the faith lives of others, but starve our own. We’ve all heard about ministry burnout, yet what do we do when our ministry is thriving, but our own soul is drying up?
I’ve spent some time reconsidering my rhythms and habits, so here’s a few ideas from my soul-care menu:
- Take the time for prayer and personal reflection, even when it seems like there is no time. When we allow the Holy Spirit to nourish our souls, the pressures of ministry are eased and lightened. Remember that Jesus told us, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). When we pause to consider our soul, then cast our cares upon God, he will renew and refresh our soul. When we attach and re-attach ourselves to the well of Living Water, over and over, the burdens of ministry feel lighter. Time is not something we spend, but something we inhabit.
- Develop the practice of a daily examen. Attributed to the exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, this practice involves reflecting on your day and identifying where you have seen God in it. Invite God to enlighten your heart and mind, give thanks for the day that has been completed, reflect on the day, acknowledge where you may need to do better, and look ahead to the day to come.
- Stop, pause, reflect, and listen for the voice of God in the people to whom you minister. Open yourself to the way others can show you the face of Christ and respond to the grace, mercy, and forgiveness he offers.
- Find a spiritual director, ministry partner, or Vibrant Faith Coach who will walk with you and help you identify your areas for growth in your walk with Christ. Alternatively, identify an “accountability partner” who will help you stay on track with your spiritual growth.
- Evaluate your ministry efforts through the lens of easing your burdens. What can be delegated to others? Who might be helpful collaborators? Whose gifts might be of hep to you?
- Take a weekend away from your congregation and worship in another community. While this may seem counter-intuitive, it offers you the opportunity to be completely present to God, without the cares of ministry.
One of my favorite sayings is that “you can’t draw water from an empty well.” I had not realized it, but my well had become empty and was in need of a good filling. Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that “whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4: 14). As ministers, we must remember to stop and drink from the well of living water that Christ offers us, so that we may continue to be witnesses and ministers. I invite you to take time this week to evaluate the level of the water in your well and engage in a practice to help you refresh and renew your connection to the wellspring and fount of Living Water.
Rosina Hendrickson is a member of Vibrant Faith’s Coaching Team. She’s the Training and Events Coordinator for Liturgy Training Publications and the Coordinator of Family Faith Formation at St. Thomas the Apostle, both in Chicago, Illinois. She also facilitates STEP courses through the University of Notre Dame, a platform for online adult formation.