Consider me available.
These were the words the young adults pastor spoke as he welcomed a group of nervous sixth formers to their first University Challenge session at a London church last night.
'I'm your point guy if you need to be in touch, if you get into trouble at uni, if you need to talk through something – nothing will shock me – consider me available'. A kind of peace settled in my heart. This man spoke with genuine concern and no flippancy. Yet I could tell that he was not a people-pleasing, needs to be needed kind of fellow, and he was a professional.
No, this was a guy who knew very clearly the difference this offer would make, and made it with intention rather than insecurity.
I know I have become weary of making myself available. I can empathise with youthworkers who, after putting in more and more hours recognise promises of availability as threats to the little time you get to yourselves. At the end of three years of student work I was emotionally exhausted. I loved the work but being making myself constantly available had made me weary of generosity and wary of demands on my time. As much as I wanted to be available, I could no longer offer it. I had led myself into a position wholly opposite to where I wanted to be – holding back, detaching myself from any situation where I might be called on to give.
It is all too easy to over-offer our availability. Jesus knew the value of drawing back and protecting the space he needed. He made that space - taking himself away so well that his disciples could barely even find him, and ended up in a real panic. It is important that we are wise at protecting ourselves and don't overcommit.
It is also important that when we find ourselves burnt out on availability that we don’t stay there, but rather find our way, tenderly, back to generosity.
It can be too easy to forget the power of availability. That young pastor’s offer changed the mood of that event. This was not a going away party. This was a supportive, communal preparation space. This was their family and they knew that however far they travelled, they still belonged here.
The extent to which we make ourselves available as youthworkers is a contentious issue, with many people over giving and burning out.