Whether you’ve been in ministry two years or twenty years, we all have a tendency towards forgetfulness. It’s difficult to look back over last year or even the last month and point to specific stories of impact and transformation in the lives of our students. We know that the Lord is at work, but when ministry takes its toll, we regularly find ourselves on the verge of burnout.
I mentor three senior girls in our church’s youth ministry, and one of my girls gave me a parting gift before I left to lead mission trips in Pawleys Island this summer. She’d painted two colorful mason jars labeled “Joy Jar” and “Frustration Jar” and written this sweet note:
“As you minister to students this summer, you will surely have times of immense joy and times of great frustration. I wanted to give you a way to record those moments and be able to look back on how God is using you and how he has answered your prayers.”
My student can’t possibly know the impact of her gift to me both in terms of encouragement and exhortation. Her note expressed her care for me, and her gift allowed me to enter into the discipline of remembrance. Taking up her challenge, I sat down every other weekend with my two jars, a pen, and a pile of notecards, and I began to write. At first, it was much easier to pen my frustrations; my mind was still racing through the weeks struggles and moments of conflict. To combat this bent towards the negative, I started writing three joy cards for every one frustration card, and once I got started, the moments of joy came more readily.
I wrote down the moments where I saw students “get it” and the times when a student took a bold risk or made an important commitment or action step in their life moving forward. I even wrote down the little things that made me laugh or smile. Regardless of the kind of week I was having, these jars prompted me to seek the Lord and rejoice.
It occurred to me that this could be a useful tool for youth workers and volunteers. The time commitment is minimal, and it yields meaningful stories, encouragement, and perspective. When my friends and family ask about my summer, I can quickly articulate a story from one of my joy cards. When I’m feeling upset over not seeing growth in my students, I can be encouraged in the ways that God has used me in the past. When I find myself dwelling on circumstances that are frustrating me, I’m reminded of how God hears my prayers and is still working all things for his good.
I’d like to pass along my student’s challenge to you. Set aside a regular time in your schedule this year to record your joys and frustrations. Don’t be afraid to treat it as a discipline, and trust that the Lord will multiply your reasons for joy. You’ll find that counting joys is one of your best weapons in fighting burnout.