Rest, Rejuvenation, and Recalibration


by Mark Oestreicher

I’m thinking about youth workers and rest today for two reasons: First, I’ve been praying, for a few weeks, for the thousands of youth workers who led a group of teenagers through the 30 Hour Famine on the National Date a couple weeks ago. I know it’s past tense now (or, it will be when you send in your funds!); but I’m fully aware of the post-partum weariness that often follows an intense ministry focus like Famine. Second, I had a coaching call today with a youth worker who is running very fast and hard, and struggling to avoid burnout. When I asked her what, in her life, was life giving, she immediately responded with thoughts about the life-giving aspects of ministry. So I suggested that there’s a difference between things that are life giving, and those that provide rest, rejuvenation and recalibration.

I have a conceptual love of spiritual disciplines. I say “conceptual” because I’m not very good at them.

Slide1But I’ve found one spiritual discipline that has been revolutionary to my life and ministry in the past eight or ten years: regular, scheduled solitude. I’d experienced deep quiet and silence a handful of times in the previous decade, and had been surprised by my ability to fully enter into it. I was surprised because—like many youth workers—I am constantly talking and communicating, constantly managing a massive “to do” list, and regularly distracted by never-ending demands.

Several years ago now, I found myself closer to burnout than I had ever been. I was emotionally and spiritually dry. In fact, when I brought this up to a trusted group of co-workers, thinking I was revealing something about myself they wouldn’t know, they shocked me by telling me I was in much worse shape than I was able to perceive. They graciously strong-armed me into a month-long sabbatical, and I reluctantly agreed to completely disconnect during that month: no email, no Internet, no mobile phone, no blogging, no contact with anyone from work. I spent 11 days of that month alone in Hawaii. During those 11 days of silence, I stumbled onto the massive recalibrating impact of extended silence.

Ever since that trip, I have entered into a cherished rhythm of silent retreats. Some years this has been quarterly 3-day retreats. At other times, they’ve been longer and less frequent. I am fairly aggressive about scheduling these, even if it is challenging to find a space in my calendar (I just schedule two of them yesterday!). Luckily, my wife is very supportive of this effort (and she has seen the impact on my life and our family).

I don’t pretend to know what you need. But I know what the beautiful and demanding life of youth ministry is like. And I want you to stay in it. To that end, consider what it looks like for you to find a regular and repeatable rhythm of rest, rejuvenation and recalibration.