Full Disclosure – I basically had a mental breakdown two weeks ago. I wrote a manifesto below all about it. Pour yourself a drink and enjoy.
Just because you’re a youth ministry coordinator, or lead a camp, or teach, or work for the Diocese, or are a parent – none of that means you’re invincible.
You will crack. You will get overwhelmed. You will fail.
How do I know this? Because I have a degree in living all of those realities in my life. The funny thing is we talk often as youth workers about the beauty of the broken and pierced body of Christ as the way upon which God offers us mercy and our salvation. Yet constantly I find myself trying to avoid my brokenness! I try to keep up appearances, hide my addictions, hide my doubts, laugh off my deficiencies. The result? The damn always bursts, and it is never pretty. Why? The short answer is pride (and my case a healthy dose of Irish stubbornness).
Most of my life I’ve always found I’m being placed into roles and duties in which I feel completely under qualified for. I am after all the Diocesan Coordinator of Youth Ministry who carries the dubious note on my CV of intentionally flunking out of University. This is where we reference the whole “God qualifies the called, not calls the qualified” statement. We can debate the healthy tension in that statement another day.
Nevertheless, as part of this experience I’ve always been somewhat of a “young leader”. There’s great joy and struggle with that.
-I surprise people, that’s great.
-I look like I’m still in high school, so sometimes it is hard to be taken seriously or get respect from the get go. Not so great.
-I often fail very publicly and in leadership positions. Humbling, and fortunate to learn lessons early. Sorta great?
The point is I’ve always been in this tension of being blessed to be in the mix to help lead, vision and share my opinions… but petrified that at some point the jig is up. People will notice I’m not actually good at my job, my sketchy background, and call me out.
So what do I do? I dive into learning every trick in the book to “hack” leadership and youth ministry. Try to google, “How to succeed without failing?” – You’ll get no results.
Hey Life, meet my friend Pride!
I became a yes man, embraced every opportunity to serve and lead. The worst part about this, you can get away with it for a while. Let’s be honest, I’ve done pretty well avoiding my brokenness. I can pack down that self-doubt and overwhelm with the best of them! That Irish stubbornness really can get you far in life. But it also lets me fool myself much too long.
Eventually for me around every 2.5 years the damn bursts. Over a couple of months or weeks I slowly stop sharing what’s on my heart to people, replying to emails, getting chores done. The overwhelm sets in. I stop delivering on deadlines, projects, commitments. My willpower could weaken to past struggles to things like Porn. Guilt sets in. Shame sets in. Bring on eating a whole cheesecake in the closet listening to Enya.
The tipping point is always different. This time, it actually started ironically with success. People started to like some of my blogs, asked me to come speak to their schools, towns, youth rallies, & invite me to help with some cool projects. Hooray, I’m famous and successful in a very minor way. That always ends well…
But then panic sets in. Oh no … people think I’m gifted! The dread of others realizing I’m a sham simply leads to paralysis. I stopped writing because I didn’t want people to lessen their view of me. Suddenly I realized I’ve bit off way more than I can chew. I’m on about 15 different committees and boards. I’ve made way too many promises. I double booked myself. We had a second child… apparently I forgot what that does to you.
You literally are almost drowning in your work.
I could just be honest and tell people what’s up and say I need to pull back… Nah, that’s silly.
Welcome back, Pride.
Next thing you know I’m avoiding people like the plague, falling totally behind, getting sick from stress, and playing Super Tecmo Bowl constantly while my wife is TOTALLY happy with me. Result? A man slowly cracking with silent tears curled in a ball on my wife’s lap.
Disappoint the Right People
The worst part of this whole charade? The fact I disappointed my family in just being a wreck and unable to live up to my duties as a good husband and father. To hear my wife tell me that I’m not joyful and loving what I do spoke volumes. She could see my misery and it was driving her crazy. That’s when it hit me. Colm, who is God calling you to serve first? God. My family. My local community. I was too stubborn in the summer to listen to these wise words of my shepherd when he told me,
“Colm, you’ve served the global church well, but maybe don’t worry about it so much this year. You got a lot going on at home” – Bishop Donald Bolen
He wasn’t telling me to not care at all about issues beyond my family and community, but prioritize. So I finally did. And I decided it was time to disappoint the right people.
The Art of Disappointment
I’m glad to say I’m on the rebound, and want to share a few lessons I’ve learned and hope to follow to avoid doing this over and over again. I call it “The Art of Disappointment”
1. Having an accountability partner is essential.
Sadly I learned this lesson to deal with pornography, but didn’t apply it to the rest of my life. Well, better late then never! My wife is awesome when I let her in to what’s going on. Maybe it is a spiritual director, mentor, or a prayer group for you. Whatever it is, we need to have outlets that force us to share and keep tabs on how we’re doing.
2. Make a list. Check it twice. Then quit stuff.
So I did as I was told by my wife and Bishop and finally made a list of everything I do and am involved with. I compared each item to each other and voted what was more essential this year. Then I ranked them, made a top 3 list for home, work, and personal endeavours. If something didn’t make top 3, it got delegated, delayed, or will be receiving a resignation letter.
3. Don’t apologize for putting family first.
I’m sure a few of my resignations and delays to certain projects, initiatives, and committees will have angered some people. But, none of them are my wife. I’m okay with that. I’ve hugged my kids harder and longer, and I’m better for it.
4. Don’t quit and stay.
I didn’t quit everything. Some things made the cut. Time to saddle up and get back to work and say sorry to those who require it. Make my yes mean something again!
5. Pray. Act. Don’t Worry – Thanks Padre Pio!
At some point, I stopped praying about what I needed to be praying about. I also started worrying a lot more and not acting. Time to reverse that trend. My personal favourites have been the litany of humility and Jesus prayer.
Why I tell you all this?
I’m sure I’m not alone. I’m sure there’s a few of you out there who’ve gone through this or are about to make a lot of the same mistakes as me.
I wanted to clear the air and get a fresh start as I begin Advent and then head down to San Antonio for NCCYM. And maybe, just maybe, we can share a drink over the folly of pride and the Art of Disappointment.