We plan more than we pray. I am guilty of that. Most of us are. As leaders, we are all aware of the endless lists of to-dos that are on our list. The people that we have to reach out to, prepare sessions, journey/mentor younger leaders, pray… etc. The list is exhaustive and endless. Maintaining a prayer life? How is that even possible amidst the very madness of being in ministry?
As a leader, there were times where I am running on my own fuel. Which has inadvertently led to burn out, misunderstandings, a lack of joy in my ministry (and life), rapid mood swings marked by sourpuss faces, easily irritable at the smallest things. All signs of which I know I am not having enough precious face time with our dear Lord.
It was becoming more and more an obligation to serve, rather than a joy. As I trace back the roots of my ‘burn out’, one thing is evident – planning has taken precedence over praying. I have also trusted too much in my own ‘will’, not God’s will in leading the way forward.
When personal efforts and plans supersede and outweigh the importance of prayer in our evangelisation outreach and ministry, we are headed the wrong way. When things do not go as planned, we are frustrated at the lack of progress in our ministry. Discouragement sets in. Frustration, anxiety arises. Relationships are strained between community members.
Well, it’s timely we remember that all is but grace
“If in the planning that awaits us we commit ourselves more confidently to a pastoral activity that gives personal and communal prayer its proper place, we shall be observing an essential principle of the Christian view of life: the primacy of grace. There is a temptation, which perennially besets every spiritual journey and pastoral work: that of thinking that the results depend on our ability to act and to plan.” (ibid.) (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 38).
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that praying is to be prioritised over planning. Planning and praying – these two go hand in hand. Yet, the impetus for all our ministry work and evangelisation activities – be it preaching, teaching, serving, singing, cleaning, administrating, programming is… co-operating with God’s grace!
God of course asks us really to cooperate with his grace, and therefore invites us to invest all our resources of intelligence and energy in serving the cause of the Kingdom. But it is fatal to forget that “without Christ we can do nothing” (cf. Jn 15:5).
It is prayer, which roots us in this truth. It constantly reminds us of the primacy of Christ and, in union with him, the primacy of the interior life and of holiness. When this principle is not respected, is it any wonder that pastoral plans come to nothing and leave us with a disheartening sense of frustration? We then share the experience of the disciples in the Gospel story of the miraculous catch of fish: “We have toiled all night and caught nothing” (Lk 5:5).
This is the moment of faith, of prayer, of conversation with God, in order to open our hearts to the tide of grace and allow the word of Christ to pass through us in all its power: Duc in altum! On that occasion, it was Peter who spoke the word of faith: “At your word I will let down the nets” (ibid.) (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 38).
Imagine if every leader in ministry realises that! We are called to co-operate with the grace of God, especially so in this work of the New Evangelisation that we are undertaking in our communities and parishes.
This work that we are undertaking cannot be done by merely human strength alone, it requires extraordinary strength; which only can be borne of a relationship with Christ nourished by prayer, reading of the word and the Sacraments.
After all, didn’t St Teresa of Avila say The tree that is beside the running water is fresher and gives more fruit?
Truly, it is when I realise that I am the branch connected to the heavenly vine of life do I produce divine fruit that will last and endure for generations to come. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Shu Ming’s deepest desire is to be a saint. She believes that all of us are called to be saints – at the end of our lives. The life and writings of St John Paul II and St Therese have impacted her greatly. Ming delights in poetry, tea-making and deep conversations with friends.