I had just started my second year of university, studying at Oxford CYM for a degree in youth and community work with applied theology, when my girlfriend of four and a half years broke up with me. All break-ups are bad and this one was no exception. In fact, this one was spectacularly unpleasant.
We had met at Soul Survivor when our two churches went together as one group, became friends and after a few years started dating. Fast forward three years and I was applying to CYM. I eventually decided to stay at my home church (in Bournemouth) where I felt called: it was the place that felt like home, and the people in the church loved me and supported me. However, chief among the reasons was my girlfriend. Wind the clock forward a year and a half and the relationship had ended; I felt like the rug under my world was pulled out.
In the space of one evening I was now single and homeless, (for reasons that are a little too long winded to write about here, I was living with her family). I just wandered the streets unsure of where to go. That night I ‘slept’ on a friend’s sofa. I called a friend who lived in London knowing that all I needed was to get out of Bournemouth. He drove down that day to pick me up and looked after me.
Things started to unravel; I didn’t feel that I could return back to work as my girlfriend’s sisters were members of the youth groups I ran and her parents were prominent members of the church. I didn’t have it in me to face that. I contemplated quitting university, and remember one night in the pub, telling my university friends that I was going to quit, that I just couldn’t do it anymore. Yet in all of this part of me knew that I couldn’t just throw in the towel. That night in the pub my friends convinced me to stick it out.
So I went back to Bournemouth, I moved house, went back to work and started my studies again. It was horrible, absolutely awful. I ended up failing my second year and almost got kicked off of my course, which meant I had to re-sit it as an extra fourth year. By the end of the academic year I had decided that I couldn’t work at that church any longer and started to find a new placement. In the summer I left and started a new placement in London. It was tough and it was messy, but God was there. So what I have learned?
There were times when my pride got in the way; ultimately it lead to me failing my second year. My friends were amazing and I wish I had let them in more at times but not only them: the church leadership, my university’s support staff and many more could have helped and had wanted to, but I was unable to accept it.
Seek professional help
The break-up opened up a lot of wounds that were suppressed and had been carrying around. I started to see a counsellor on the advice of a friend, but to start with the sessions consisted of me just crying for an hour. Over time the crying became less frequent and I started to deal with the wounds that had been opened. I think everyone should see a counsellor even if they think they are fine. For me having the space to be open and honest and somewhere to sort out the mess was invaluable.
Don’t give up
It would have been so easy to give up on my degree and my job but I am so glad that I didn’t. Yes, the last six months of my placement there were really hard; especially working with my girlfriend’s sisters in a church where everyone knew my business, but some good things happened. I finally completed my degree, a year late, but I still did it. It seems trite and clichéd, but things do get better.
I regret the way I left my placement in Bournemouth. I didn’t put things into place for the projects to continue, I just left as quickly as I could; it was unprofessional. If I could change one thing it would be how I left that place. Leaving well is sometimes the difference between the continuing success of a project and it failing.
Look after yourself
Take time for yourself; don’t rush into anything new, especially new relationships. Do things that you always wanted to do - I decided to learn how to scuba dive. Youth ministry can be such a drain on us, physically, emotionally and spiritually, we need to look after ourselves to be as great a youth worker as we can be. How that looks is going to be different for all of us. I spend time gardening, sowing, weeding, planting: it’s how I put myself back together.