Counting Down the Days
Posted on May 31, 2018 by David Walford
The summer holidays are not too far away, and the promise of a break in the sunshine can be irresistible. Summer festivals, residentials, holiday clubs and day trips often come with that time of year and they are often times which catalyse deepening relationship with young people. There are only seven weeks left of what I imagine for many of you has been a hectic year, so how do we finish well rather than counting down the days till we grab our sunglasses and passport?
First, if you are in this place, it can be helpful to try and locate where feeling stems from. It could be that you have had a strenuous year/term (or even week!) for whatever reason and are struggling to keep your head above the water. Or it could be because the young people you are working with are challenging, where the end of the year signals the end of that particular project. It could also be the opposite, where you are not doing any ‘exciting’ youth work in schools at the moment. All of these are not only understandable, but it’s also normal to feel like this from time to time.
In general working with young people can be draining, especially when you give so much of yourself, but some periods can be more tiring than others. In these times, it often can be demoralising when we’re running on empty and we have two assemblies to plan, an anger management group to run, a meeting with a headteacher to organise and it’s only Monday!
When we’re tired, we’re not at our best and we often revert back to bad habits. One habit that I see happen across the board, regardless of profession, is to rely only on ourselves in tough situations. As Christians, we believe that the work we do is not only in partnership with God but also because of who he is. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12 saying that “[God’s] power is made perfect in weakness”. For God’s power is not good but is at its best in our weakness. This means that rather than shutting God out when we are weak and tired, our emptiness just leaves more space for him to work. Practically, this means carving out space to put God first in our work, in whatever capacity that looks like for you.
In youth work, just like any other area of life, it is imperative that we make time for rest. There is a distinction between resting and doing nothing, and I believe that the difference is whether what you are doing is bringing out the best in you. For example, when I get home, it can be easy to just go on my phone and scroll through Instagram, but when I most come alive is when I’m creative, and so one way I’ve learnt to alleviate stress is to play the piano when I get the chance. Figuring out positive ways to rest is really important and obviously sleep is a game-changer as well!
Working with young people is tough at times and when it can seem like too much of a struggle it can be challenging to see how you are going to reach your target, whatever that looks like. Whether it is helping a young person to make healthy choices or delivering assemblies to a year group every week, sometimes our end goals can be too big for us to see obvious progression which can lead to discouragement. Much like when planting a tree, growth often happens on a slow scale where we don’t realise, especially when we are so invested in a particular young person’s life. Putting in place smaller goals means that you can recognise growth a lot easier as you go rather than having to track back. This can give you a sense of achievement when you reach those ‘milestones’ but also will give you an opportunity to celebrate. I think a passage from 2 Corinthians 4 really captures this well:
“Therefore, we do not lose heart… So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”.
This passage gives me some perspective and help me remember why I do the youth work that I do. Practically, you could write up and display up some of the goals and reasons why you do the youth work you do on your desk – post-it notes work wonders!
If you have this next half term with not much filling your diary or filling ‘your tank’ with youth work in schools, then this half term is an amazing opportunity. As exams come to a close, schools will be looking toward the Autumn term after the holidays, preparing for the start of another school year. Booking in your next term’s projects, groups and activities not only fits into timing for school but shows them that you are organised and prepared. It ensures that you won’t be in this situation again next term.
Proverbs 21:5 articulates that “careful planning puts you ahead in the long run”, and if you find planning and organisation difficult, being ahead of the game can present an opportunity to have something to build upon next term. Pray about what your plans are for next term and offer them to God and you can use this quieter time to your advantage.
Let me know if you have any other tips or advice for these final seven weeks of term – I look forward to hearing from you.