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!

Creating a Rule of Life, pt 6

I like to tell people to “Take care,” when I end calls and emails.  Because I don’t waste words–not intentionally–I think about how to end interactions.  Sometimes I tell people to “Stay well” or I’ll close an email with “Every blessing,” taking the ending from Dr. Walter Elwell who emailed me about a paper once when I was in grad school.  I still love that closing and every time I use it, I think of him and what he taught me about Jesus in my first class studying theology.  Of course, most people don’t give that much thought to how I close my emails.  Still, when I write “Take care,” I’m often thinking of the focus of this part of the Rule.

This isn’t caring for someone else.  This is care for you by you.  Most people are told–in a variety of ways–to care for others, but being told to care for self and actually doing so feels selfish.  Consider the notion of being selfish.  The snarky but well-meaning me wants to say that we are selves, that we are alive to be who we are and nothing else.  When it comes to being selfish the question is, can we be anything else?

I know when people say it they intend to suggest that we not make ourselves the center of the universe, that we become giving people, and that we not restrict our experience of the world to the limits of our skin, our arm’s length, and our conceived notions.  Still, all selfishness isn’t created equal.

I was speaking with pastoral psychotherapist Dr. Janice Hodge earlier this year and she reminded me of Jesus’ words where he summed up the commandments into a two-part law.  It’s the one where Jesus said to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.  Dr. Hodge underlined the as yourself part and told me that most people dismiss that clincher.  I’ve learned this over the years, forgotten it, and am learning it again.

The rule of life becomes a vehicle where we attend to others, to serving others, for sure.  But it also makes us question what we’ll remember, be mindful of, and execute for the sake of ourselves.  We don’t love others if we don’t love ourselves.  What we do is attempt to love, try to love, get at love.  We may be on the way to loving, but without the as yourself part, we’re still, simply, trying.

Because our denomination is strong in this area for its clergy persons, I have a pretty developed practice of self-care.  I teach seminarians in this area as well, and anytime I answer questions around self-care, I’m immediately reflecting on my ups and downs, successes and failures at living it.

What do you need to do to attend to yourself?  What activity do you need to start or end?  Who do you need around you for the next six months, the next year, to strengthen you?  Of course, we’ll get to the next parts of the Rule which have to do with what you’ll do for people, how you’ll love God or others.  But stay with this until you come up to some unmistakable clarity about taking care of you.

Questions You Should Ask Fathers

A trend started when we brought the boy home from the hospital, after his birth.  I noticed it right away.  The first couple who saw us coming off the elevator in our building asked us.  They are a lovely couple and always have been.  I respect them and admire them.  But they started this trend in my mind, launching me into an experience that’s left me motivated to change how the world asks questions when interacting with parents, particularly fathers.

Their question—and everyone else’s question—was something like, “How are you?”  They were looking at my wife.  They never looked at me.  And it started.

When people would ask me, after the birth or after the three weeks I took off from the church, they would always want to know about the boy and about Dawn.  Now, I appreciated this.  I did.  But it’s always left me wondering if people have the curious tools to ask about me, about the father in the picture.  That would be me.  Before you think I’m completely self-serving and needy, consider how important it is to ask the how you’re doing question to a mother.  Why wouldn’t it be so valuable to raise with a father?  Would a person really think a newborn is needy right before asking about that baby?

So, here goes:

  1. How are you?  This is basic.  This opens up many possibilities.  It takes little effort.  Most people have already asked it, as I mentioned, and only need to modify it so that the guy feels included.
  2. Have you slept?  This, again, is basic, but it’s one of the most caring questions you can ask a father.  He’ll think you love you, even if you’re meeting him for the second time.  He’ll walk away with good thoughts of you.
  3. How do you do it?  More people, more non-parents should ask this.  It’ll make them appear empathetic.  Or smart.  Parenting is difficult.  I can’t understand how single moms do it.  I can’t wrap my brain around how a single dad would either.  It takes too many people to screw up at this.  I can’t imagine how I could mess up all by myself at parenting.  A variation of the question above is, how do you all do it?  How do you make it happen is also a variant.
  4. How is your marriage?  How is your relationship with the child’s mother?  This question takes some history with the father to raise.  But since parenting, no, since children change everything, we need help paying attention to everything outside of the kid(s).  We miss the essentials of life outside of the kid during those early years.  And sometimes that leads to erosion in our relationships as a couple.
  5. Who are you talking to?  Dads need therapy or spiritual direction or great, life-giving habits or really good friends or a combination of all of these.  We need people we can tell what our experiences are, good or bad.  They shouldn’t just be spouses, if you have a spouse.  Get a friend.  Use that friend.  The way you would a prescription from your favorite doctor, faithfully and consistently.  It’s good for you.
  6. Are you spending time with the kid?  Fathers need to spend time with their children.  We need more time than most of us are practically able to give.  This question pushes us to think about where the time goes, whether the kid is a newborn or a teenager or a full-grown adult.  This looks different for me and my father.  Our time is spent mostly on the phone.  I don’t rush him, though he’s too sensitive to time when he calls me.  With my son, it may look like refusing to overlook him.  It may mean sitting in the floor and rolling the wheel on that dump truck.  And doing it again and again and again.
  7. Are you getting time away?  Sometimes I feel like my kid gets tired of me.  I get tired of him.  Uh, all the time.  Then I leave.  I do something else.  It’s not selfish.  In fact, the most helpful thing I can do for that boy is leave my house.  Now, I’m coming back; that’s probably the second most helpful thing I can do for him and for his mother.  But for a guy like me—who needs to get away from people in order to replenish, to re-engage, etc—leaving is vital.  And it pushes me raise how much I am there when I’m there.  Am I with him?  Am I thinking about him?  Do I notice the way he rolls his eyes and laughs during breakfast every morning?  Did I see him raising his arms to me as I washed those dishes before one of the grandmothers arrived in the morning?  Or was I spending my thought time elsewhere?  Leaving enables me to return well.
  8. Can I help?  Be forewarned that this question may lead to kissing and hugging and undying thanks from the father.  We need help and if it’s offered, there’s very little to prevent us from heartily accepting that help.  Of course, we aren’t going to leave our kids in the care of people we (father and mother) don’t trust.  But beyond that, we’d love to have you!
  9. Taking care of yourself?  Most people assume this is a mom question.  And that’s true.  But dads need this.  My schedule has generally been more flexible than my wife’s since the boy.  So, I’ve done the things that needed to be done around the fringes.  But I work full time in a church as a pastor, teach a class at a seminary, write curricula when contracted to do so, and like to take a drink of water every now and then.  All of these things that I do are my decisions to make.  But I love that people tell me to care for me.  I need that.  Or I’m no good to the wife, the child, or anyone else.  This relates to question 7, but it’s an expanded question because the answer includes whether we’re attending to physical health, emotional health, spiritual health and mental health.
  10. What are you learning?  Fathers learn all kinds of things.  We don’t notice it most times, but when we’re asked, it makes us consider.  Along with that, I think we should keep some record of what we’re learning.  My blogging is part of that for me.  My periodic posts about what my boy is teaching me or how I see things differently are ways for me to capture those answers.  A variation of this question is, are you growing?  Or, how are you growing?  How are you different?
Would you add any questions?