“So, what are your plans for the fall? What trips do you have planned?” Judy asked.
“I don’t know”. This response seemed to be the best answer I could muster. I didn’t have plans! I didn’t have any idea what the student ministry (for which I was responsible) would be doing a year from that day (or even in six months). And to be honest…..I am not sure I cared. Oh, I knew I should care. But I didn’t! I just wanted out! I wanted no more responsibility. No more having to put on a face. No more having to put on another program. I was stuck. I had to put on a face and put on a program every Sunday and Wednesday and days in between as I visited the schools and teens.
“I don’t know”, I told her through tears, “I just want to go to Seminary”. I think I’ll work on my Seminary degree full-time and just help someone else who will come in and do the ministry full-time. I thought I wanted to go to seminary. In reality seminary was a smokescreen (and I didn’t even know it). I just wanted out!
Sharing such a gloomy view of ministry, with the pastor’s wife, doesn’t sound wise, but we were great friends and I think it felt nice admitting I didn’t have the answers anymore. I am a very driven person who always has an opinion. I didn’t have an opinion anymore. It didn’t matter. I didn’t care. My attitude filtered down to even tiny decisions like, where do I eat or what do I do on Friday night. “I don’t know” and “It doesn’t matter” seemed to be common phrases in my vocabulary.
The pastor’s wife asked me to see a counselor before I made any decisions regarding my future. I followed her advice. As the counselor began to ask questions, I realized I was burned out. The more he uncovered, the more I realized that my burn out began with some interpersonal issues I had not resolved. I thought I could sweep these issues under the rug. These issues had hurt me deeply. They teamed up with other circumstances to send me into a downward spiral. Having never experienced burnout I didn’t have any idea what was going on. I realized I loved God but hated the church. I had even become paranoid (when at church). I wondered what people were saying about me. This was definitely not me.
My pastor urged me to do whatever was necessary in order to find healing. I still don’t remember that year of ministry. I don’t remember who led the retreats we took. I remember, about a year and a half later, thinking, “I’m back”. “This is me. I’m back”. I was ready to run again, minister again, forgive again and live again.
I’m so glad I didn’t leave when I wanted out. My best years of youth ministry were right around the corner. I would have missed those special moments if I had followed my initial inclinations.
Nesha Smelley, lives in Northport, AL. She was a youth minister for 15-20 years and now works with an overseas mission ministry reaching out to youth in other countries.