My 2-year-old granddaughter, Leah, is a very busy little girl. She flits from one activity to another in rapid succession, and she announces that she is ready to move on with her favorite expression: "All done, all done." We have found that once she declares "All done, all done," she really is finished and won't continue that activity – even if it is in the middle of eating a meal.
Recently Marsha was trying to take a video of Leah riding her wooden rocking horse. Every time Leah started rocking on it (very cute), Marsha would grab her camera to record it, and sure enough Leah would quit riding – declaring "All done, all done."
Leah is very comfortable with declaring that one activity is finished – even if it is incomplete. I admire that in children – their ability to move on from one thing to the next, even if it violates my adult sensibilities that we need to finish what we have started.
The problem with ministry (as with many other professions and jobs) is that we are never "all done, all done." You may be preparing for the best Holy Week services right now, but no matter how wonderful a job you do in planning, sharing, and leading those services this year, Holy Week is going to roll around again next year. You may visit and pray for several sick parishioners this month, but next month there will be more. You may counsel with persons in need this week, but sometime in the next week or so, other needy persons will be knocking at your door. Ministry is never "all done, all done." That is one of the reasons ministry can be tiring for clergy and lead to ministry burnout.
A book which has helped me with that that issue is "Ministry Burnout" by John Sanford. Like many other books addressing the issue, he identifies the nature of burnout in terms of several key factors, including what he calls the "revolving wheel" of our ministry schedules. His book helps remove some of the "guilt" of ministry burnout by comparing ministry to other professions he has studied as a therapist, and he offers a few very simple ways to avoid the sameness of ministry. He advises that we simply do some of the routine things differently to find refreshment: Drive to the office or hospital by a different route, move your desk around in your office or study to get a different perspective, preach your sermon in a different style occasionally, etc. He also talks about avoiding the usual "ministry facade" by not saying to every person you encounter, "How are you?" when you know them and you don't really have time to deal with that topic at any depth. He suggests simply saying, "Good morning" and avoiding the cliché ministry comments that can make us feel like phonies. He also suggests that ministers find activities which have a sense of ending or completion – like mowing the yard, or finishing a wood-working project – as a way of taking a break from the numbing sense of incompleteness. It is a good book, and there are many others like it – reminding us that ministry is never "all done, all done."
As I watch Pope Benedict prepare to resign and retire this week, I heard him wanting to be "all done, all done." I read all the conspiracy theories about his choice, and I have no idea if they are true. I rather suspect it is a simple fact that he is tired and burned out. Maybe he deserves to be "all done, all done" and I am sure the Catholic Church will go on without him.
As I anticipate my own retirement in 2016, I don't have a sense that I will be "all done, all done" with ministry. My ministry setting and role will certainly change, and I see the wisdom of the church limiting our years of active service. But I also see so many retired clergy here in Indiana and elsewhere who have discovered whole new ways of being in ministry after their official retirement. I think I will be one of those persons who recognizes the end of a chapter of ministry, but who looks forward to new ways to serve Christ and the church – and my family.
In the meantime, I am going to keep on doing the ministry I am called to do – but I may go visit Leah and find refreshment in hearing her move easily from one activity to the next, as she declares, "All done, all done."