A year goes by so fast, but here we are again in the midst of this annual season in our Church. You can see it on the faces of nearly every person you encounter.
That’s right! Burnout season.
Every year as we enter into different holidays or liturgical seasons meant for celebration, I see and talk with a lot youth ministers at a variety of events, and the most common threads in their lives and ministries are exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed instead of feeling joyful and refreshed from entering into these celebrations.
I see parents scrambling trying to balance work, family, daily household responsibilities, and taxi-ing their children to fall sports, plays, rehearsals, youth group, Confirmation classes and extra curricular activities.
I see young adults fighting colds from lack of sleep and stress from midterms, projects, writing papers, and late nights of homework and research while trying to maintain some inkling of a social life. They work as often as they can to pay for school or at least for the coffee that keeps them going each day, then they crash at night to wake up and do it all over again.
I see teens applying for colleges and overwhelmed by the massive amount of pressure, expectations and requirements of parents, teachers, coaches and universities, while also trying to maintain their activities, sports, grades and family life.
I see people at Mass ready to fall asleep standing up, having spent their last ounce of effort to get there and simply have nothing left to give.
Exhaustion and worry become the nails in the coffin of joy, a coffin you probably also wish you could be in so you could just sleep for a solid 8 hours at least once since last NEVER. Whatever stage of life you are in, this time of year seems to be marked more by anxiety than by joy.
It’s easy to become bitter, frustrated, overwhelmed, and not take care of yourself. But Jesus does not call us to anything easy or comfortable, because anything worth doing comes with difficulty (Matthew 7:13-14, John 16:33).
Every Advent, when I hear the words of Mary, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” (Luke 1:38) I think about how this simple yes would change Mary’s own life, facing potential judgment and death for appearing to conceive a child out of wedlock, and also how it would change the whole world. All of salvation history culminates in this one yes that was given because Mary was able to set aside her worry because God was her number one priority.
Every Holy Week, when I hear the words of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done,” (Mark 14:36, Matthew 26:39, Luke 22:42) I think about all the times I have been overwhelmed, all the times I wish things would just be different in my ministry or my life, and how meagerly they compare to the trials and sufferings Jesus endured for me.
So often we spend the most solemn and celebratory parts of the liturgical year breaking our backs for the to-do list, that we are left with no energy for prayer or to grow in our faith life.
Jesus was born for you.
Jesus died for you.
Jesus rose for you.
Jesus lives for you.
He didn’t do all of that just for you to meet that deadline, make the team, get into your dream school, make a lot of money, have the picture perfect family, or pull off the best parish event ever. He did it first and foremost because He loves you, and He wants you to take a step back and simply receive that love.
So, if you are overwhelmed, if you just want to quit because you feel like you don’t have the gifts, talents or energy to keep going, know that Jesus chose YOU (John 15:16) and He would not call you to something you could not do without His help (1 Cor 10:13, Phil 4:13). However, we don’t always ask for God’s help, or anyone else’s for that matter. We try to do everything on our own, because we don’t trust anyone else to do it the way we want it to be done, and our life becomes less about relationships and more about the monumental amount of things to do that can easily have negative effects on our relationships, our marriages, our family and our personal life.
Allow this to be a Holy Spirit wake-up call that you need to take some time to be fed and recharge, before you completely burn yourself out. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Take a Sabbath. Sundays are busy for people in ministry, and we sometimes think we are keeping the 3rd commandment to “Keep holy the Sabbath” simply by being at Church ALL DAY. But that’s not a Sabbath. It’s also not meant to be the “last call” day for all the homework or errands that you put off all weekend. A Sabbath is a day of REST, a day out of the office, a day to enjoy without homework or a bunch of household tasks, a day OFF. And it is supposed to happen EVERY SINGLE WEEK. If Jesus needed rest, so do you (Mark 6:31-32, Mark 9:2, Matthew 14:13, Matthew 14:22-23, Luke 22:41). That doesn’t mean you spend the day doing chores and running errands instead, but spend time with your friends, your family, your spouse and allow God’s peace to settle your heart so that you can recharge. Maybe your Sabbath can’t be Sunday, and that’s fine. We still need to keep our Sunday obligation of attending Mass, but maybe Saturday is your day to rest and be with family. Whatever it needs to be, let it be the first thing you schedule every week and stick to it.
2. Spend time in silence. Show me your prayer life and I’ll tell you how much peace you have. Show me how much time you spend in silence and I’ll tell you how much anxiety you probably struggle with. We need time to disconnect, to retreat, to simply be with our thoughts and to allow Jesus to speak to us with no distractions. If your prayer always involves you talking, asking or thinking, then you’re missing the most important half of the conversation: God’s. If you have young children this may sound impossible. Start with 3 minutes a day, and when you finally get there, make it 5 minutes the next day. If you intentionally schedule that time into your day, it will be easy to keep to it.
3. Start and end your day in prayer. The first word out of your mouth every day should be “Jesus” and the last word should be “Amen”. We wake up with a list of everything WE want to get done that day that we forget to ask God what HE wants us to do. When we get home, we’re often thinking about how well or badly everything we did that day went, and we’re either in a fantastic or terrible mood based on our perception of our day’s success. The person in charge of you having a good day is YOU and YOU ALONE. So when you anoint and consecrate your day to God, you recognize immediately what is a priority and where your purpose and peace come from. No matter what else happens that day, it is either a success for God’s glory or a failure you can lay at His feet. You will grow in gratitude when your day is bookended in prayer.
4. Community. We live in a country and in a world that paints the success of the individual as the highest goal. The hard part about always crossing the finish line first is that you’re always alone; no one is there waiting for you or walking with you, because you’ve spent all of your effort running ahead of them. We need people we can be vulnerable with and share our weaknesses with, “for power is made perfect in weakness,” (2 Cor 12:9). These people need to call us to holiness, support us, build us up, pray for us, and call us out when we are lagging in our spiritual life (Sirach 6:5-17). We are the average of the people we spend most of our time with; spend time with people that inspire you to be holy. If you are the holiest person in your closest group of friends, you need new friends.
5. Ask for help. We spend so much time on social media trying to put forth an image that our lives are perfect and that we have it all together. We’ve been conditioned to never admit our mistakes, to be perfect, and to hide our imperfections and insecurities. Our culture encourages us to be independent and never be vulnerable, which a sure recipe for loneliness and isolation. To be a disciple means to be vulnerable, and even prepared for rejection (Matthew 10:16-25, Matthew 13:57, Mark 13:13, Luke 12:50). Do not let failure deter you. Be persistent in prayer (Matthew 7:7, 1 Thessalonians 5:17) and God will send you who and what you need. Remember, God is God, and you are not. Let Him do what only He can do and restore you in the midst of busy seasons so you can be present and free from anxiety. Sometimes this restoration needs to happen through therapy, or medication, especially if you suffer with persistent clinical anxiety. Whatever you need to do, there is no shame in getting the help you need to be the person God created you to be.
I pray that this season is one of rejuvenation and joy in your life, family and relationships. God bless you! and we'll see you in the Eucharist!
Matt & Jenna are two Catholic best friends, youth ministers and worship leaders seeking to encourage, inspire & grow closer to Christ and His Church.