Restlessness in Youth Ministry

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”  — St. Augustine

I’m restless. Uncomfortable with down time. Uneasy with nothing to do.

And my assumption is most youth leader types are a restless bunch as well.

We replace solitude with phone calls to students.
We MUST read all 47 blogs every day before we dive into God’s word.
We NEED to counsel students before we counsel ourselves.

In a high-paced world of youth ministry, we are threatened by opportunities for restlessness at every turn.

And trust me, I’m the epitome of a restless youth pastor.

For me, restlessness is always accompanied by a tinge of sadness. I can’t explain it. It’s almost as if when I’m not doing something productive, I feel…useless…sad…worthless…

I’m reading Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser and loving how he redeems true Christian spirituality. In it, he offers some advice based on Henri Nouwen that I found exceedingly refreshing for restless souls like mine.

First, own your pain and restlessness. Admit it. I’m a restless sinner who can’t seem to find fulfillment in God alone. By owning the restlessness, we being to understand the time we are living in. As Nouwen writes, “Our life is a short time in expectation, a time in which sadness and joy kiss each other at every moment.” There is an inescapable restlessness, sadness, incompleteness in every moment.

Second, give up false messianic expectations. Nothing in this life will every full complete us.  We need to stop demanding that our lives, our jobs, our youth ministries will give us what only God can give us.

Third, go inward. This is the step I’m learning. “When we are restless, everything in us screams to move outward, to seek some activity that will soothe the ache” (Rolheiser). Wow, how true is this of me! During moments of quiet and unease, I sense this overwhelming burden to move. But the actual step should be to go inward and sit still because restlessness can turn to restfulness, compulsion to freedom, impatience to patience…

Fourth, it’s never over. This isn’t a one and done thing. We don’t just learn one final time to become restful rather than restless.

As youth pastors, we need to model what it means to find our rest in God. Not in activity. Not in media. Not in busyness. Not in youth programs.

In God. Alone.

What ways to combat restlessness? How do you learn to find your rest in Thee?