Last night I had a discussion with others that made me think about my time as a ‘lay pastor’ (volunteer pastor). I’ve never exactly spelt this out for people, but my blog-name of ‘Cardinal Cyn’ is also a reference to a time in my life when I studied ministry and did lay pastor-y things. As a result I have some experience with pastoral care.
Part of me loved to help others in a sort of pastoral care type of way.
Sounds all warm and fuzzy, but I can tell you it is not. Among other things, I can remember the awkwardness of visiting someone in hospital after a failed suicide attempt; there seemed to be a plague of depression everywhere I turned; and I once faced a person exhibiting behaviour which was just freaky and weird (screaming, pointing and rocking in church…ffs!) (while sitting on the floor). What would you do?
I kept a journal on pastoral care for a while in order to learn from my own reflections. Here’s a quote from it:
…There are others however, who don’t seem to grow or who are playing games. I am concerned with how a person is travelling spiritually and like to encourage them. But I don’t like being manipulated or played with by people who are excessively needy. I don’t have a need to be needed, in that sense, and I’m glad about that.
I discovered during this time how much I needed help, myself, from time to time. It’s hard to hear and see some of the stuff you do, in its raw intensity. I needed to ‘debrief’ or find a ‘relief valve’, particularly after a tough session.
I found that when in the role of ‘helping’ others I MUST do stuff in order to look after myself. Stuff like self-care. Knowing my own limits and boundaries. Dealing with my own issues so they were not projected inappropriately. It was really important for me to know who I was and be comfortable in my own skin – otherwise I’d get creamed.
The risk of NOT doing this – of NOT knowing who I am, and NOT dealing with my own stuff - is that all the crap that gets dumped on me from other people goes into me and builds up, to a point of pressure-cooker-meltdown level. If I didn’t have a healthy release valve in place, the crap comes out in unhealthy ways – usually in ways which damage relationships. This is not a long-term recipe for wellness, happiness and health, people. No it is not. Not for me. Not for anyone.
I had to learn how to be well. And not just physically well – but emotionally, mentally, socially, spiritually well. Prevention is better than cure. This is what works for me:
- Practice acceptance. Breathing in the realisation that I can’t change some things or people, and there are probably elements of a situation that I will need to learn to accept.
- Support. Allow someone else to stand alongside me to provide “psychological splinting”.
- Time out. Escape by taking days off, pursuing recreational activities, having a regular diversion, taking part in social activities. Have some fun.
- Self development. Learning skills and gaining more understanding. Always reflecting on my own attitudes and behaviours and what I can learn for next time.
- Attending to physical factors such as exercise, rest and diet.
- Plan Strategically. I always like to have a plan in order to build.
Even so, it takes a special kind of person to survive long-term in such a role.