This blog is part of our #WhatsNext series for former volunteers, inspired by the What’s Next Notebook resource from Catholic Volunteer Network and Catholic Apostolate Center. In each blog, we will explore helpful tips for looking back on your volunteer experience, saying goodbye, determining your next steps, and sustaining your spiritual growth during the transition to “life after volunteering.”
Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them — every day begin the task anew. – St. Francis de Sales
One reason people often cite for becoming volunteers is to grow spiritually. The volunteer experience is in many ways uniquely suited to such growth. After the growth you experienced as a volunteer, you may be wondering how you can continue to have access to opportunities for such experiences once you return from your volunteer commitment. Consider the following suggestions:
- Become involved in workshops and retreats offered in your area. Find out if there are retreat houses in your area and get on their mailing lists. Diocesan newspapers and parish bulletins often include information about upcoming events. Universities often have speakers and events that are open to the public.
- Find out if your diocese offers services for lay formation. JustFaith is a parish-based formation program that gives participants the opportunity to study, explore, and experience Christ’s call to care for the poor and vulnerable in a lively, challenging, multifaceted process in the context of a small faith community. Visit www.justfaith.org for details.
- Get involved in a prayer group or bible study. If you can’t find one within your local church, consider taking the initiative to get this started.
- Find a spiritual director. Often vocations directors or young adult ministry staff with have information on spiritual directors available in your area. This may be a priest, minister, religious, or lay person. A spiritual director must be carefully chosen: his or her style should suit yours, and she or he must be able to challenge you in such a way that helps you grow. For more information about what spiritual direction is, visit https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/making-good-decisions/spiritual-direction/.
Living as Missionary Disciples: A Resource for Evangelization
Your volunteer experience may have left you in a unique place among your old friends as one of the only active church-going members. One resource that may be helpful as you navigate this time is Living as Missionary Disciples: A Resource for Evangelization. This resource, produced by the USCCB and Catholic Apostolate Center, “serves as a road map for leaders and provides principles of evangelization and missionary discipleship, with resources designed for pastoral leaders to develop, enhance, and review their own local strategies to create an evangelizing parish.” For more information, visit Catholic Apostolate Center’s resources page: https://www.catholicapostolatecenter.org/lmd.html.
Your service experience does not have to remain a closed chapter in your life, instead it can be a lens through which you see the world. Take a moment to think about how much your faith has grown during your time of service. The exercise below will help you begin that reflection process.
Fill in the following sentences in your mind’s eye – or in a notepad:
- I felt God’s presence when ________________________.
- ________________________ helped me feel truly at home.
- I found joy in ________________________.
- I feel called to be an advocate for ________________________.
- Service has made me more ________________________ than I was before.
- Service has made me less ________________________ than I was before.
- ________________________ helped me learn how to love more deeply.
- One thing I hope to always remember ________________________.
- Remembering ________________________ gives me strength.
Do any of your answers surprise you? Are they different than the answers you would have given before you were a volunteer? Even though your year of service has ended, prayer and contemplation are ways to keep the experience alive in your heart. You may be amazed to find the ways that God continues to speak to you. Carving out regular time for prayer will help you integrate your service experience with whatever steps you take next.
Journaling is an excellent way to dig deeper into the service experience. Here are some tips for cultivating the habit of journaling:
- You don’t have to have all the answers. Your journal can be a great place to work out your struggles. You don’t have to wait until you’ve figured it all out to document it in your journal. There is no need to edit your thoughts or feelings. Be as honest as you can. Often, the task of writing out your thoughts helps bring clarity and a sense of peace.
- Make it a habit. At first journaling may seem awkward or tedious, but once you’ve gotten the hang of it, the words will start to flow naturally. Try writing a little every day. Soon you will be amazed by the quality of your reflections.
- Make a list. What are you thankful for? How has service changed you? What do you miss the most about your community? These are all great ways to start a journal entry.
- Unplug. Handwriting your journal entries will help you keep your thoughts unedited. The process of stepping away from your computer and picking up a pen will lend itself to deeper reflection.
Here are some books written by volunteer alumni about their service experience:
“Mind Your Body, Work Your Soul” by Clare Strockbine, Liguori, 2013.
“Mercy in the City – How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned, and Keep Your Day Job” by Kerry Weber, Loyola Press, 2014
Thank you for diving into our #WhatsNext series! Next week, we will explore the theme of Staying Connected – Living Simply, in which we will reflect on the ways you can continue to practice sustainability and economy in your lifestyle outside of the context of community living.
Be sure to register and receive all our resources for former volunteers, including the What’s Next Notebook and our Weekly Job Bank, by clicking here!