Continuing my blog series on Ordination, the next section of questions I was asked to answer deals with spiritual and personal self- care, and self-awareness in ministry (gifts and growing edges).
Gifts and Challenges in Pastoral Ministry
I think my greatest gifts in pastoral ministry are my ability to listen well, my love of people, and my ability to imagine things as they could be in the Kingdom of God. As a writer, and a mostly creative person, I’m always imagining things that could be, and I enjoy helping people imagine new ways of seeing God at work in their lives.
My greatest challenge in my spiritual life is, and has always been, fear. Fear of losing the people I love, fear of change, fear of things staying the same, and fear of failing. I find that the greatest indicator that something is spiritually off balance for me is the voice of fear that will creep in – usually at night when I’m by myself. If I don’t pay attention to it, I tend to become more anxious and easily overwhelmed.
My greatest challenge in pastoral ministry, tied hand in hand with fear, is perfectionism. I like to do a good job, but when I get unbalanced, I tend to focus way more on details and doing things exactly right, than on the relationship.
My greatest grief in pastoral ministry is being a witness to human suffering. I had to do it as a resident at Scottish Rite Hospital. In a 12 month period, I walked 16 families through the death of their children. And I’ve experienced it here as well, as this church has said goodbye to beloved people.
Dry Places in Spiritual Life
I try to maintain an active writing life – a spiritual discipline of reflecting on the everyday things of life and where I find God there. When I am in a dry place in my spiritual life, my writing is one of the first things to get pushed aside. I have a book called Writing to God: 40 Days of Praying with my Pen, which is full of prayers and writing prompts. It’s a way of writing prayers to God. My dad has always practiced the spiritual discipline of fasting. He used to let me know when he was going to be fasting so I could join him if I wanted to. When I notice that I’m in a spiritually unbalanced place, I will sometimes do a fast. During a dry spell, I will read familiar passages of scripture, looking for God to speak through them in a new way.
Caring for Myself
I recognize that caring for myself is a big part of doing good pastoral ministry. This was an area where I struggled a lot during the residency – partly because at the beginning I was saving all of my paid time off for a surgery I needed to have, and partly because I got into such a groove with my work that I didn’t feel the need for time off, until about ¾ of the way through the year- long residency.
I experienced a horrific 24 hour on call shift, which stayed with me for about 2 weeks. My supervisor “assigned” me a vacation – so I took a week off to refocus, reconnect with God and reflect on what it had meant for me to be with those families that day, and for them to experience that kind of suffering.
Music is very important to me. One of the things I’ve done to nurture my love of music and care for the musician inside is joining an orchestra class. After this class, I’ll be able to join the intermediate class and after completing it, audition for the Atlanta Symphony Community Orchestra.
My favorite thing to do to recharge on the weekend is to get up early, brew some coffee and enjoy the morning, with no agenda. Just me and my journal for about an hour. Then I play with Oliver, and/or read a book. I do enjoy being around people, but my Saturday morning routine has become kind of like a ritual for me – it signals that it’s time to slow down and refresh, and that it’s ok to be still and just be for a while.
Personal Boundaries in Ministry
I’ve had a lot of growing to do in the area of personal boundaries over the years, but I have a few that I try to hold fast to. I don’t answer my phone on Saturdays until after I’ve had my morning recharge time. Usually around noon is when I’m ready to have company, or leave my apartment. One of my challenges in setting boundaries, even in graduate school, has been feeling guilty about taking a Sabbath. There’s always some kind of work that needs to be done, and I’m still learning how to be at rest when it’s time to rest. I am good at recognizing when I need to take a Saturday completely off, or use Sunday afternoon to relax and recharge, but I’m working on being able to enjoy downtime for the sake of downtime, like the morning when I first get up and the coffee is brewing, or the evening when I get home and my reading chair is waiting for me.