You can’t give what you don’t have. You can’t give what you don’t have. You can’t give what you don’t have. REPEAT!
While this statement is true, I think for many of us in ministry we often act as if it were false. As a youth leader, I care for my teens and my ministry so much. I want the best for every young person that I encounter. I want to show them the goodness of God. I want to look young people square in the face and tell them their life has meaning and worth. That they have purpose and God loves them. Doing ministry day in and day out is awesome and an incredible privilege, but nothing, including youth ministry, can replace your personal relationship with Jesus. I beg you, do not confuse your ministry with your relationship with God. Sometimes we can fall into the trap of: I said a rosary at youth group, I participated in Adoration as part of the Life Night, or I work at Church and I’m doing Jesus things 24/7, so my life is centered around the faith. These prayer experiences are all good, but we cannot “count” them as our personal prayer time with the Lord. In these capacities and roles, we are giving and serving.
In Matthew 22:39, Jesus said the second greatest commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The truth is that each of us has to look in the mirror and ask, “Do I love me?” If I cannot love and accept who I am, then I cannot love and accept anyone else, including young people. And, without prayer, I won’t be able to love and accept myself. This is because my true identity is found in Christ and rooted in being his daughter, not in what I do for Him. At the end of the day, everything you do should have this at its aim; discovering more and more that you are His. We need to have faith and be a disciple to serve in ministry. There are certainly things in ministry that help our own spirituality, but ministry is not the only way towards growth. Knowing, understanding, believing, and being convicted by this is a reminder for all of us to not solely rely on ministry as the place where we grow our faith. So, how do we do this? How do we live in ministry, but detached? To give, we need to detach from ministry and live a healthy, wholly, and holy life – body, mind and spirit. Here are some pointers:
Personal Prayer (not prayer for your teens or your job)
There is nothing more important in life than the Eucharist and prayer. Prayer centers ourselves; ignites, heals, transforms, and empowers us to live for Jesus. A healthy prayer life is hard work. Let us always remember to give time to God in prayer.
Spiritual Reading (not study for your job)
One of the greatest resources to grow in our spiritual life is the practice of spiritual reading. After all, Saint after Saint has pointed out the positives of spiritual reading. Spiritual reading provides excellent food for the soul, powerful insight and wisdom, and great examples of progress along the path to the Kingdom.
Going on a Retreat (not youth retreat)
The same value that we place on taking teens to retreats, we need to place on attending a personal retreat ourselves. A retreat has the power to rejuvenate, renew, and reset our faith! Why wouldn’t we go?
“But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself” (Matthew 6:33-34). Reminder! You can’t give what you don’t have. St. Teresa of Calcutta, one of the greatest saints of modern times, was an inspiration worldwide and practiced what she preached. Her witness clearly articulates why you can’t give what you don’t have and why it matters. She said, “Everything starts with prayer,” and “Our lives to be fruitful, must be full of Christ.” Turning to God first was Mother Teresa’s way of doing things. When the Sisters enter the Home for the Dying each day, they never touch a single person or help a single person until first stopping to pray. If you don’t pray and love and value yourself, you won’t be able to instill those attributes in those you minister to. Nurturing our relationship with God is not optional! Let this be our prayer.
I beg of you, my Lord,
to remove anything which separates
me from you, and you from me.
Remove anything that makes me unworthy
of your sight, your control, your reprehension;
of your speech and conversation,
of your benevolence and love.
Cast from me every evil
that stands in the way of my seeing you,
hearing, tasting, savoring, and touching you;
fearing and being mindful of you;
knowing, trusting, loving, and possessing you;
being conscious of your presence
and, as far as may be, enjoying you.
This is what I ask for myself
and earnestly desire from you. Amen.
—Saint Peter Faber, SJ