Monday, December 30, 2013

Confession of a Pastor: Counseling

Looking back on 2013 it has been a year of years. I knew it before I even looked back on it; I knew it in the middle. In May I lost a very close friend, George Roberts, and officiated his funeral. The next month I lost my friend Mike Bolinger and officiated his funeral. In November my mother passed away and I officiated her funeral.

In the midst of these events our church staff shrank by a record number of people. Translation: lots of serious things to navigate, financially, organizationally and emotionally. To boot I didn't get my usual block of vacation in the summer.

In the early fall I went to give my highly prized O- blood. Nurse, "Sir, your blood pressure is really high. If you were my brother I'd tell you to go to the doctor right away." I went, talked to the doc, reflected on stressors to-date, took some tests. The tests were ok. The list of stressors I wrote down appeared daunting.

So I decided to take the advice I'd give so many people: Why don't you go see someone, a counselor? I didn't have to sell myself on this. I could feel the enormity of feelings way closer to the surface than normal. I could feel what I dubbed soul fatigue, a lack of energy and lack of desire to go once again into the breech, of about any kind of challenge. Not like me at all.

So I made an appointment with my friend, Keith, a man whom I respect highly and refer my closest friends too.

I can tell you there is something comforting in talking with a counselor knowing their professional life would be in great peril should they share your comments with anyone. It's not that I had anything to hide, it's just that knowing that was calming, relaxing.

At this place in life, generally speaking, a lot of people lean on or look to me, which is a very honoring thing. (It's the gray hair, my age.) But it felt really good to be in a room where that wasn't going on. I could relax and look to Keith.

I've seen him a handful of times in recent months. It was weird in that there's not some plan or script we worked through; we just talked. But it has been good. He put it on me, as to when I want to see him. I made it a point to see him even if I was feeling good, because I wanted to do the work of being restored; I wanted him to make the assessment of how I was doing, not me.

I met Keith right before our Christmas services at Oakbrook. I can't say that some clear catharsis happened, but something felt like it broke loose. He in a subtle way pronounced me "ok." Maybe a bit wounded or tired, but ok. I felt a sense that that was perhaps my last visit, but time will tell.

Sometimes as much as we need someone to point the way or plot a course of recovery, we need someone we trust to tell us we're ok. Sometimes that's just enough to instill the hope we need to focus on the future instead of being preoccupied with our wounds. Feeling ok and being affirmed that we're ok, firmly instills hope in our soul, at least for me anyhow.

One of my learnings has simply been to embrace what I've told others so often:
When things in life are challenging beyond your normal; when events in life seem beyond your known ways of coping or solving things, it's probably wise to see someone--to see a counselor.

One of my favorite sayings is the Amish proverb: "Praying doesn't plow the field." So I pray that God will restore my soul and I'm plowing the field by going to see Keith. And I've honestly dialogued about how I'm doing with my lovely wife Sandra and trusted friends, Mark, Greg and Sean.