Struggles from the Field

I don’t know a youthworker that doesn’t struggle with making time for their personal spirituality. Full-time youthworkers are immersed in lesson preparation and all things “Christian,” creating a placebo effect of spirituality-by-osmosis. We believe our relationship with God is intact; how could it not be? We’re surrounded by God stuff! Part-time or volunteer youthworkers find themselves split between multiple jobs and often are also trying to balance time with family. Where does the day go? Ultimately each face a day of reckoning where they are confronted with the truth: spiritual neglect leads to apathy, burnout, and emptiness.

At my last church I borrowed a thought from Kenda Creasy Dean’s “A God-Bearing Life” and went to my youth steering committee with a proposal that I take one day a month for personal retreat, calling it a day of Sabbath. I would leave home but not come to the office, taking the day to spend quietly in some fashion restoring my relationship with God. As I described the process, there was some confusion. “So you want an extra day off a month?” “Not a day off. A day to restore myself spiritually. It’s important to what I do here to not let my relationship with God wear down, and your Sabbath is one of my busiest days of the week.” “So you just need, like a planning day?” “Not a planning day. A day spent in prayer and study, for no other purpose than being quiet in the presence of God.” The mom had been sitting with her legs crossed and as the full concept settled into her mind, her foot began to twitch rapidly. “I think I’d split in half if I tried that,” she eventually said.

It wasn’t easy for me either. The first day I did it I borrowed a friend’s apartment out of our community and spent the afternoon there. It was excruciating. I had no idea how far out of relationship I was. I didn’t know what to say. “I love you” was in my mind, but “I’m so sorry” was all that I could get past my lips. From that day forward I began working with a devotional guide, journaling as I went. On my day of Sabbath, I would begin with prayer and then read back through the past month’s entries. I’d never seen so clearly the way of my spiritual journey. Awesome.

Then I moved three years ago and it all went back to zero. New people, new stresses, new joys, and a new brand of busyness steamrolled over my fragile structure of self-preservation. The last entry in my devotional journal stands at… reaching for it, hang on… March 23, 2009. Going backwards, there are two weeks of entries there, then nothing for a month. A few scattered entries, then a six-month silence through the fall of 2008 as I attempted, alone, to live through the most difficult season personally that I’ve encountered. What excuse is busyness for such neglect?

It’s not all that bleak. I’m better at protecting my family time than ever before. And I have found other means than journaling for maintaining my relationship with God. Yet this is where many youthworkers live, pining for a day of rest, a day of connection, a moment of peace in the storm. How do you keep the presence of God present in your life?

KEVIN ALTON :: youthworker :: musician :: friend
423.227.5466 :: twitter: elvisfreakshow
www.purringtonmusic.com :: www.elektronyouth.com

5 comments

  1. I have found that a week (at least 4-5 days) listening to God in solitude at least once or better, twice a year, crucial in my ministry.

    • Ray,

      Can you share for everybody some of the specific things you do during your week? For those who are trying to start, sometimes knowing what works for others really helps.

      Thanks!

  2. Great thought! God is so good. He knew I needed this encouragement today. As I struggle to finish up some last minute work for one of my 3 jobs(Personal Trainer) and get ready to prep for “Mission Night” for my youth group at the local Salvation Army kitchen this evening, I’m struck with need to “squeeze” in a 5 minute meditation before I shower and run out the door. Whew! I’m breathing heavy already… Since I have taken Friday off from my 3rd part time gig (waiting tables) I will devote tomorrow to me and God. Thankyou so much.
    -Vini

  3. Vini, just hearing your schedule echoes the difficulty I feel in setting aside time for rest and spirituality. It can feel selfish, knowing that so many of my volunteers are running ragged even before I ask them to help with retreat, social event, or worship experience.

    But it matters. I think that as we model it our lives we can begin to lead others in similar patterns–eventually making real differences in our lives and in the ministries in which we are invested.

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