Sunday, January 1, 2017

A New Calling

My pastoral care stoll
I'm not one for making New Year's resolutions. I always figured that if I wanted to start something new, I shouldn't wait for a calendar change. 

One of the changes I made in 2016 was to accept an invitation from my minister to join her Pastoral Care Team. She asked me three years before but I was not in a place to help anyone after caretaking for aging parents for a few years.

The truth is I learned a lot from others who held me while I did that caretaking. But it took me some time to recognize those lessons in myself. I was (and, sometimes, still am) engulfed in the negativity from the experience. I needed to care for me for once and not worry about others.

As I came out of the self-involvement of trauma and grief, I started to see how those who supported me maybe needed some support too. 

There were a couple of church friends who were going through difficult times in their lives with the loss of loved ones. I was there for them as much as I could and tried to carry some of the weight. When discussing the pastoral care invitation with our intern minister she told me, "Kathy, you already are on the team. At least come to the meetings for the support."

I felt completely unqualified to do the work of pastoral care. What if I screw up and say something that makes things worse for someone? Who am I to walk someone through emotional difficulty?

My minister ran a training session for the team and I read a book she provided. I learned that it's not so much about talking as it is listening. It's not walking for but walking with. I remembered that most of what I needed for myself in those years of caretaking was a sympathetic ear and for someone to validate the misery I was in. No one could fix the situation and I bristled when someone suggested they could with overly simplified solutions.

This pastoral work is something that I found calls to me in a way that other volunteer work never could. When speaking to someone who is in crisis, I find an inner calm instead of anxiety which I expected at first. I'm not sure where that comes from and why it changed. Maybe it's because I have matured after the losses in my life. Or maybe it's because of the mentoring and support I receive from the ministry of our church and other team members. 

But I think some of it comes from the honor I felt as I was blessed by the congregation when given the stoll I now wear at church services. It was a moment of clarity for me. That this was real and important. That I am trusted by others to walk with them during the worst parts of their lives. 

If my health were better I would pursue a chaplaincy degree. Even at this late stage in my career life. 

And so though it's not something I can do full-time I will try to learn as much as I can from my ministers and team members. They are my role models and inspiration.

And when I wear my stoll or sit with those who grieve, I will remember that not everything in life is planned. That love and grief go hand in hand. That listening is more important than talking. And what a gift it is to be trusted with all of it.