Lately I feel God pointing me in a direction of increased reflection and thoughtfulness about my faith, my situation, and my life. I have set a goal for 2013 to strive more to develop my faith life and my relationship with Christ. Sounds like your run of the mill ‘resolution’ I know, but for some reason, this time it went from my head to my heart.
This increased draw to more reflective activity has allowed me to finally unpack my last three years in full-time ministry. (For those of you who do not know, I am back in school pursuing a B.Ed.) During this process of uprooting hurts and fondly remembering successes and joys, I have been presented with a new lens with which to look back.
Ministry was awesome. I loved it, and I was good at it! Not to fluff my own ego or anything, but if we’re being honest here, I feel like I was good at it and my feelings have been confirmed by people with educated opinions on the topic. I say I was good at it, too, because it was one of the few things I was good at.
Stay with me.
Growing up, I was never really good at sports and was never an academic decathlon all-star either. I was your run of the mill kid who was a bit overweight, and always trying to be the center of attention for obvious reasons. After high school I entered the automotive industry which I was good at, but I was never really fulfilled.
When I started getting involved in youth ministry at various retreats and youth nights, I felt something different. I could use my ‘gift of gab’ to try to bring youth closer to Christ! I started working in full-time ministry and I absolutely loved it. My entire life was encompassed by it. I enjoyed it. I was good at it. It brought me fulfillment. I was serving God. It felt like a calling. I was happy.
It was not until this recent unpacking of my youth ministry experience that I realized something. Over the years, I allowed youth ministry to become my identity. I slowly allowed youth ministry to steal my identity. Over and over I would fall into that trap serving the ministry instead of serving the Lord.
This made so much sense! No wonder I worked so many extra hours without even a grimace. No wonder I took constructive criticism and feedback personally. No wonder I took it so hard when things did not work out and I had to face some changes. Toward the beginning, I even took it personally when some youth decided youth group was not their thing. I had invested so much of myself physically and emotionally into this ministry that whenever something not favorable happened, it hurt. I think we need to bring our emotional and physical relationship purity techniques into our ministries! The more of us we give up (identity) the harder it is to ride out struggles or even step away.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t some pride ridden monster who was super protective of everything and wasn’t willing to change or evolve. This wasn’t some crazy Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde scenario. It simply was an ongoing battle that I identified early and wrestled with often. My ego would flare up now and then and I’d have to head to the confessional! This, Mass, and Adoration kept it at bay, but there was still a root that had to be pulled. My identity was in ministry.
Our identities can not be in our ministries, our identities must be in Christ. Only errors, bruised egos, and regrets come from the former. Our ministries are on loan from Christ. He has entrusted us with them and His children to guide and foster them into fullness of life and relationship with Him and through Him.
On the flip side…
Sometimes it is even easy to have our identity lost in the ministry/organization or event that brought us closest to Christ or brings us the most life, and not simply in Christ alone. I have said many times how I could use a retreat or go to a particular ministry/organization’s event because I have fond memories of them, the feelings they brought, and the beautiful and supportive community it provided. When I am in this place I am quickly reminded of the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus where Peter wanted to stay and build tents. I think we can all remember Jesus’ reply… If I invested my heart into an ‘ordinary’ Sunday Mass at my home parish as much as I do when I am with some ‘legit worship leaders and my favorite priests’, I will get just as much out of it. The feelings may not be the same, but love isn’t based on feelings is it?
Even if our faith lives may be dry right now, our hope can’t be in the next retreat or the next youth night or the next conference. Our minds shouldn’t be filled with daydreams of the next transfiguration experience we will have and how amazing it will be. Who knows when that will be (remember Mother Teresa’s story…)? Dryness doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done something wrong or that God is super disappointed in you.
Maybe it means that He feels your faith is at a decent enough level that you don’t have to be spoon fed anymore… just sayin’. Maybe he thinks you’re ready to chew on solid food and struggle with it a bit. Don’t all good parents do this at some point? Maybe ‘dryness’ in our minds is exactly where we need to be? A spiritual director can help more with figuring this out.
As faithful, especially lay faithful, we are called to take up our crosses in the world and follow Christ. “What is distinctive to the laity is engagement in the world with the intent of bringing the secular order into conformity with God’s plan” – Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord – USCCB
My point is:
- Don’t let your identity be consumed by your ministry.
- Don’t let your identity be consumed by the human elements that brought you to Christ (ministries/organizations, retreats, music, etc). There are so many paths to God in the Church.
- Don’t base your faith on your feelings. Bl.JPII said that love is not a feeling but an act of the will that prefers the good of another to the good of oneself.
- Don’t assume you’ve fallen out of love with Jesus because your butterflies aren’t there anymore
- DO let your identity be consumed by Christ
- DO be encouraged by Saints and Blesseds who have paved the way and have been there.
- DO remember fondly the transfiguration moments of your past and use them to get through the dry times and the struggles.
- DO find a community and group that you can grown in faith with, but be careful where your identity lies.
- DO trust in His mercy.
This post came from a long and hard reflection about my life and my experiences. I am putting this out there so you don’t make the same mistakes I did!
Keep the faith posers!