Are You Done?

In conversations with some colleagues and one of my spiritual directees, the subject of continual discernment with regards to careers came up. We mentioned that many in ministry burn out and while some of us even confessed to “feeling burned out” sometimes we simply put our shoulder to the wheel and continued on, taking some time for self care along the way.

Others simply stopped.

And there’s no shame in that, because they simply didn’t have any other way to cope. But they weren’t angry or frustrated or even looking for a new career. They just stopped.

Many of us in middle age who have been in our careers now for some time mention the fact that they’re “done”. They’re heading towards retirement and simply are biding their time in their career, continuing to do what they do without much fanfare. Some do this because they’ve chosen a family. The need to put 4 kids through college keeps someone moving in their career, but not exactly moving forward. They just go to work every day but there’s not much thought behind it anymore. They like their job and can do it well and it pays the bills. Is there something more challenging for them out there? Perhaps, and perhaps they long for it. But they’ve chosen family over career and they are happy doing that. One father of a college student simply said “I’m just done. I go to work each day to put my kids through college.” Another parent of a colleague was a doctor. On Saturdays he could have been out on the golf course making all kinds of business deals, but instead he’d be home with his kids. He would report that it was his choice to do so and while his practice didn’t suffer, it probably didn’t grow either and he was just fine with that.

We all make choices in life. John Scarano, my mentor for my CCMA accreditation once said, “You can be a great minister or a great family man, but you probably can’t do both at a high level.” I know my own wife often complains about the amount of time that her workaholic husband spends with his students. I’ve dialed it back a bit this year, spending more time with her and it’s been great to have her company. We often do things together in ministry, like marriage prep and cooking for the students. We don’t have children, so we can do this well. But even without children it can be tough.

I’m not close to done. There are still benchmarks for me to hurdle and books to write and students to sit with and listen to. I’m feeling more generative lately and lately this ministry has also given me some new life and insights into myself. Like my love of spiritual direction with students and helping them discern who they are. I’m also finding out more about myself and my maturity. I used to really get upset when I’d have disagreements with people, and I still do. But now I can be calm in those moments and ask myself what is really going on here. I’m not perfect at this and still get defensive, especially if I get blindsided by something unexpected, but I can articulate my feelings better in the moments after and see where I need to move forward.

So I’m far from done with ministry. I’m saddened sometimes by others who simply stop, but also feel for their frustration, especially in today’s polarized climate in the church and in our political life. When I look at that, even just superficially, I wonder why more people haven’t stopped doing the good work that they often do.

So today, let’s pray for courage and energy to “keep on, keeping on,” despite obstacles, despite disagreement, disappointment or just plain exhaustion. May we remind ourselves that God is with us and can provide us comfort, guidance and rest. And when we actually are done, may God provide us with the rest for his “faithful servants” and by his grace, allow us to be satisfied with all that we have done with our lives.

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2 Comments

  1. Mike:
    This is very timely in my life! My body said STOP! last fall after a huge Sept/Oct start up season that included our national association board meetings, hosting a regional conference, training a student leadership team, oversight and mentoring to 5 clubs, hosting a controversial series on sexuality, taking on a side role in continuing ed and doing this all with the periodic absence of my colleague, the chaplain! And did I mention that my role, coordinating campus ministry at the largest campus in Western Canada was supposed to happen in a 24 hour work week? I was owed a month of overtime by November 1 and that was only counting Sept/October hours.
    Burnout? I think so. I had a severe allergic reaction to multiple foods and a pretty complete breakdown that included all my hair falling out! I am still on medical leave and do not anticipate coming back for some time according to doctors and other medical health professionals who all say stress is the root of this.
    Sometimes, I really believe God says “Stop keeping on, rest in my love and care and for now, know that others will pick up the slack!” After 22 years of working for the Church as high school religious ed teacher, then parish and diocesan RCIA coordinator, LWC coordinator and starting and running our summer institute for 6 years punctuated by raising our 4 children, caring for parents in law and hopefully holding a marriage together, I am resting for now. I am not done with the mission that came with my baptism 46 years ago but I am resting from active ministry…..I think that is OK and if it prevents me damaging a student or worse, then that is right, right now.

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  2. I’m hearing this from a lot of friends who work in secular fields, too. Except there is no “biding your time” in any jobs anymore. Everyone is expected to do the work of 1.5 or 2 or even 3 people these days. Lack of challenge may be part of it, but I think exhaustion and burnout are bigger issues–especially among working mothers.

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