Telling Others What You Hear

I started graduate school last fall in a program that prepares scholars to teach in pastoral care, pastoral counseling, and pastoral psychotherapy. I’m not in the clinical track, though it’s set up in order to deepen students’ clinical skills. I knew when I started school that I was also continuing in my work as a supervisor in ACPE. I knew I was meeting committee (in November of 2017) and again (in November of 2018). I knew of some of the feedback throughout my supervisory education process and that it’d be with me still when I started school. I knew because of these specific “events” that I’d re-enter individual therapy.

My committee in November gave me 2 recommendations that I wanted to take into therapy. I was also in the midst of an important departure from ending 16 years of congregational ministry, which meant a significant role loss; that was something I wanted to use therapy to reflect upon. I would add individual therapy to my list of venues of growth.

I started in January, and it felt familiar to me, and good. Don’t worry. I will not expose my experiences in therapy on this blog! But I will say one specific thing. Consider sharing what you get from your venues of growth with people who will help you grow, heal, deepen, and live.

If you keep what you learn to yourself or if you keep it within that venue, it won’t go far. It won’t spread. And it will be limited in how it reemerges in your ears. You won’t see it or hear it in the words and faces of others. In other words, you’ll forget about it. You’ll lose touch with it. You’ll restrict your possibilities to use what you get.

I’m using therapy as a venue of growth, but I’m adding it to supervisory education, spiritual direction, collegial conversation, and so on. Your venue may not be therapy for your venue to be therapeutic.

I used to tell people during pastoral care conversations at church that they should consider what to share with small group members or relatives. Those were the people who would come alongside my conversation partners, who would help them live toward what they discovered in worship, in prayer, and in spiritual conversations.

If you could do it all yourself, then the counsel would fall flat. But you can’t do it all by yourself. You never could. So when your pastor tells you something meaningful, share that with your cousin who texts you a million times a week. She can bring it up, ask you how it’s going using what your pastor said. You get the idea?

I started. I occasionally tell very close people what happens in my therapy. It’s a way of sharing my experience. It’s a way for me to keep using, speaking about, and practicing self-discovery on the way toward living. If it wasn’t helpful, I wouldn’t be in therapy. And if it is helpful, I need to keep it going. Sharing what I hear with others, helps me keep it going. What will help you keep your growth going?

And What Do You Need?

My spiritual director has what feels like go-to questions. She’s too experienced to use go-to questions. In reality, she listens to me and to the Spirit and follows those cues.

Her questions hover with where I am. What they really show are the basic questions I keep needing to return to, revisit, and re-hear. They repeat because I’m still needing to hear them.

The particular question–because there are a few that occur to me in this way which I’ve scribbled into my soul over our eight years together–is “And, Michael, what do you need?”

I can hear the questions the way I can hear my breathing. Usually after running or exercising or working hard, I hear what’s been there, unacknowledged and unnoticed. I hear my breathing. The questions are like that. The longer I’m in direction the more this happens: I find Lucy’s words coming up. She is a means of grace in that way. God speaks through her to me. And I’ve been hearing that question. Michael, what do you need?

It turns all my energy, energy I often direct toward being good for others, ministering to others, caring for others in the church, home, and hospital–all that meaningful energy comes to me in a question. It’s hard to pay that kind of attention to yourself when you serve others. Until you have to. Sometimes you don’t realize you have to until it comes up in a good question.

So, here it is for us: what do you need?

Sitting in Pain

Sitting in pain. That’s a phrase I hear often. I see people doing it, sitting in pain.

Sometimes you can look into a person’s face and see it. Pain takes many forms. It’s good at masking itself, staying hidden, but it leaks out too. It’ll snatch the face you were trying hard to hold. Pain will break the exterior guarded smoothness of your made-up self. Pain has a way of having its way.

I think what honors pain–and I do think that pain like other feelings should be honored, respected–is giving it due room. When it comes, you can’t make it go away. You can’t force pain to leave. Even drugs numb the senses rather than remove the pain itself. No, pain needs space. Pain that’s respected is pain that’s given space.

Clear the field of your soul. And if you see pain rising in that field, give it the whole place. Sit with that pain. It may take over, hijacking your life for a while. It may feel scary, burdening you with new fear. It may be suffocating, taking the breath and life out of you. But pain, after its done, will pass. Then, you’ll see what’s next.

My Blog: Things You Don’t See

One of the earliest things I learned when I started working as a chaplain is that things I don’t see can sicken me, take away my strength, and cause me harm. There are more pathogens in the world than I’ll ever see.

On one hand, that’s enough to send a non-medical person nuts. Everywhere you look and everywhere you touch, you’re wondering, “What’s on this?” You change your habits. You watch your six-year-old and test him by secretly counting how long he washes his hands. You do this to everyone in the bathroom, too. Until the results depress you.

On the other hand, this unseen presence makes the human body that much more remarkable. We walk around well, and that’s miraculous! And we also need to care for ourselves as much as possible in appreciation for ourselves. How will you appreciate yourself today, amazing sustained miracle that you are!