Finding Rest In the Midst of Mess



By Marty Estes

I unlocked the door of my office and had to push a little harder than usual to get it to open. As I turned on the light I shook my head as I could barely see the carpet underneath a pile of dodgeballs, boxes of candy, posterboard, rope lights, and a random box of assorted goodies that included multiple cans of Lysol spray, Frisbees, a bolt of orange fabric, and Gold Bond powder. I used my foot to sweep some of the mess out of the way and into a singular pile off to the side and walked to my desk, and settled down in my chair. If my floor was messy, my desk was the scene of a catastrophe: Mountain Dew cans, my BB-8 bobblehead, and office supplies competed for space with post-it reminders, a screwdriver, legal pads, my Bible, and forms, forms, forms. All of this screamed at me with one loud voice:

Welcome back from summer!

If you’re like me, you spent your summer doing ministry. Ministry like that involves VBS, mission projects, fun nights, camp, and more time out of the office than in. It’s incredibly awesome to get to participate with Jesus in the calling of hanging out with teenagers for the glory of God. It’s also incredibly tiring, and things can pile up quickly if we’re not careful. One or two weeks out of the office turns into a monster of garbage, to-do’s, and misplaced intentions that saps our souls and gets us atrociously off-kilter as we get ready to step into one of the critical times for youth ministry.

It can be overwhelming when we look at all we have to do, and all we haven’t done; but the most important thing in that office, or youth room, or closet is not the mess. It’s not the stack of papers. It’s not the overflowing trashcan or the lost and found pile you just can’t seem to get rid of. The most important thing is you.

And while the church board or custodian may be breathing down your neck to swing back into things, to clean up your mess, and to dot every “I” and cross every “T”, you and I need to understand that our relationship with Jesus is the most important thing, and that He cares more about you than all the details. He cares about us so much that He calls us to restore our own soul so that we can participate in the restoration of others.  You’re not alone in this. Right now, across our nation, weary youth workers are recovering from summer and diving right back in to fall. How are you doing, really?

I don’t know how you’ve done it in the past, but let me share some easy ways you can recalibrate and restore yourself so you can enter into this next season of ministry in a way that both honors God and your calling and allows you to rest a little.

1. Make a list.

Very spiritual, I know; but seriously: you need to make a list. Make a list of everything you need to do, and everything you want to do, and begin to prioritize those things. Got an event coming up? List it! Need to spend time with your spouse and kids after being on an “every other week gone” schedule during summer? List it! Need to stop eating so many donuts? List it!

Why list it? Because ideas stay ephemeral until they are out of our head and in the open. Making a list doesn’t solve these issues, but it does mark the beginning. Make a list and stick to it. Cross things off so you can see your progress. As you make a dent in the things you need to do, you’ll see it and feel better about yourself and get energy to accomplish the goals ahead.

2. Spend time with Jesus.

You’ve spent all summer pouring into lives all around you. You drove teenagers all over the place. You stayed up late counseling.

You probably even neglected your own spiritual health. Real youth workers do it, and if we are honest with ourselves, there are times, maybe not just this summer, where we have neglected spiritual disciplines simply because they got lost in the shuffle of what had to be done.

Leader, you need time with Jesus to be effective!

I know you’ve heard that so many times because I’VE heard that so many times, but it’s true. The impact you will have on those you’ve been called to shepherd will only be as great as Jesus’ impact in your own personal life. When you neglect time with Him, you’re neglecting yourself, which negatively impacts everything you are a part of. It might be hard, but carve out that time and spend time with Him! You’ll be glad you did!

3. Do something you love.

Whether it’s hunting, board gaming, reading, sitting on the deck in the evening with a cup of coffee and watching the sunset: you need to make time for you. Find what gives you life and immerse yourself in it! It’s not wrong to have hobbies. We should enjoy them for what they are and take time away from our jobs, offices, and calling occasionally in order to recharge.

For me, it’s board gaming. I love games like Settlers of Catan, Mysterium, King of Tokyo, and others; and thankfully, my family does as well. So I get the added bonus of spending time with the people I love who love me. Speaking of family…

4. Rediscover your family (and friends).

For many families, summer is the hardest part of the year, because ministry often beckons us away on camps, retreats, events, and more. It can be easy to get so caught up in our roles as ministers that we forget to minister to our own families (and friends, particularly for you single youth workers). As you recuperate, your family may need to recuperate as well. I can’t tell you how important it is that you lean into your family after being so busy. Your children need you, your spouse needs you, your extended family needs you as well. In almost 15 years of ministry I have seen men and women win others to Christ but lose their family in the process. This should not be! Make sure to be present with your family. Put your phone or tablet away when you enter the house. Don’t let work follow you home if possible. Allow your home to be your “Fortress of Solitude” as you recover. Your family will be thankful you did.

5. Understand that it’s not all going to get done immediately.

Lastly, this is one of the most important parts. You’re only one person. Admit it. You only have so much time and energy. You will NOT get it all fixed, put back together, and shined up in one day. Maybe not in one week. Maybe not in a month. Guess what? There’s grace for that! This is not an excuse to be lazy but a reason to celebrate. We are messy individuals saved by the grace of God, and we still make mistakes. Don’t make the mistake of working so hard to make sure everything’s perfect that you never recover from your summer pace and burn yourself out. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Allow yourself grace for the journey and work at it in light of everything else in this list, and give yourself the rest you deserve.

That’s right, you deserve it. Good job this summer, fellow youth worker. Now, go get some rest.