A typical evening in our home can often sound like this:
“I can see that the comment made you anxious. What do you think is the underlying cause of your anxiety?” Or, “How fascinating that your mother responded that way when you were young and how it affects you now, what in her family system taught her that response?”
These are the questions my husband naturally asks me. Not because he is trying to impress me with his insight or is trying to be my pastor or counselor but because he is trained in pastoral care.
This past year, I spent my days entering room after room listening and giving pastoral care to people as a Chaplain Resident in a county hospital. And then I would come home to a minister.
And it could be exhausting.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love my husband and I love that we are both ordained ministers who can share the ups and downs of the ministerial life. But to be honest, sometimes I just want to come home, eat leftovers on the couch and watch a mindless television show until I fall asleep. My husband’s questions have a way of interrupting my evening plan, which involves strategically ignoring my emotional life.
My relationship with emotions has always been touch-and-go. Some days I listen to Patty Griffin, do some yoga, then curl up with some green tea and read Mary Oliver. On other days I want to listen to loud music, keep myself busy and run around in circles trying to feel productive and far from vulnerable.
Emotions are messy, annoying, difficult and often painful. Not to mention they make me feel paralyzed and weak. Sometimes I think I can learn a trick to control my emotions like flipping a switch, so that they will speak to me only when I am ready and willing to listen. So far, I have been unsuccessful.
As much as I want to control them, emotions remind me that I am human. And my husband’s pastoral questions, although sometimes frustrating, remind me that I too need the pastoral care that I spend my days providing. It’s not his responsibility to be my counselor or maintain my emotional life but that does not mean that at times his training and insight are not helpful. I have come to realize in my short tenure as a minister, that often one of the most difficult lessons is learning to receive care.
Ministers often see human pain, suffering and injustice closer than anyone because we are invited into the most intimate spaces of human life. This privilege has the potential to fool us into believing that the world depends on us for healing and hope. We can exhaust ourselves trying to fix everyone’s problems. While our positions and callings can provide spaces for healing and hope to happen, it is never dependent upon us. When I pay attention to my emotions, my fear, my pain, my anger and my despair, it is then I remember that I, too, am a creature in need of care. Being married to another minister helps keep me in the rhythm of self- care and encourages me to do the good work of self-reflection for the good of myself and for those who I care for.
Yes, sometimes all I need is some popcorn and a movie but other times it’s good to be reminded that good self-care helps me best care for others.