Western culture loves the idea of hard work. It is a given that if you want to succeed in medicine, law, business, or politics, you have to work hard. But we usually carry things too far—to the point that we become unhealthy.
For example, children of workaholics are 72 percent more likely to suffer depression than children of alcoholics. Alcoholism and other “-holisms” have a stigma. They are diseases to be cured or at least managed. Workaholism, however, is often lauded and rewarded.
Those of us in ministry—even part-time or volunteer ministry—seem unusually susceptible to workaholism. We tell ourselves that we are sacrificing for the sake of the church or the people or Jesus. A call to ministry is a call to sacrifice, no doubt about it. But it is not a call to sacrifice our health and the relationships of those around us.
RCIA ministers teach by example
This matters for RCIA ministers. Initiation ministry is an apprenticeship process. Most of what the catechumens learn about being Christian comes from following our example. If in our catechetical sessions we talk about Jesus making our burdens light and yokes easy, while at the same time suffering from overwork and exhaustion, what are the catechumens really learning?
Of course, there is a difference between working hard and working yourself to death. But how do you know the difference? Medicine and psychology don’t have a clear answer for that yet. However here are some clues.
- If you would rather be “doing your ministry” than spending time with your spouse and kids, that’s a red flag.
- If you consider sleeping, reading, walking, laying on the beach, and other leisure activities a waste of time, you might want to reassess.
- If you have no hobbies or no “date nights” or no fun, you need to get some.
- Here is a biggie. Is your self-worth tied to the success of your ministry? If so, that’s a problem.
- Do you have any friends that are not on the RCIA team or otherwise connected to parish ministry? I hope so.
- Are you always stressed, tired, irritable, distracted, and rushed? These are not the signs of a Spirit-filled life.
Take a step back
When I first started out in ministry, I saw many of these warning signs in my life. Then one day it dawned on me that I wasn’t happy. I was lucky, I think. I saw the red flags before my life started to self-destruct. My first step was to take a day off. I went completely off the grid for 24 hours, one day a week. Usually I went camping so I could physically be away from everything. This was before wireless smart phones and tablets, so it was easier. But you get the point.
Here is the thing I had to tell myself then and I still have to tell myself. There will always be more work to do. There will never be enough hours in the day to do it all. So I plan to work hard each day, as hard as I can, until it’s time to stop.
And then I follow the example of Pope John XXIII and say, “It’s your church, Lord, I’m going to bed. I’ve done the best I can.”
How do you keep from working too hard?
What are your tips for keeping the ministry load manageable and life balanced? Please share with the rest of us.