The premise of this post is that we are all broken individual in need of care. In my opinion we fail to mention the need for spiritual and emotional care as often as we call for care of our physical bodies. Another reason for this post is that for some reason pastors seem to neglect themselves. Not only do we neglect our physical bodies by saying our Lord or our parishioners or our families need us more than we need ourselves, we trample upon our spiritual and emotional health using the same excuses. Sometimes we change the language and say, “God is first, our family is second and we are a distant third.” Yes, our Lord does need and so do our parishioners; and yes, that is a good mantra to live by, but I’m afraid if we perpetuate those sentiments we’ll continue to perpetuate unhealthy ministers leading churches.
My proposal is that we pastors find a spiritual director or counselor. What we do on a daily basis requires much of our physical, emotion and spiritual bodies. We are called to be theologians, pastors, accountants, lawyers, human resource directors, preachers, spouses, children, parents and siblings. So we immerse ourselves in scripture and read theology to prepare for worship and small groups; we sit with folks contemplating monumental life decisions; we pray with folks as they contemplate the unknown; and we go home and live as spouses, parents, siblings and a few other unnamed roles. (I’m worn out just reading that list above.)
Here’s why I’m advocating for all pastors (and lay people!) to find a spiritual director or counselor. About two years ago I realized I was adrift. I was performing the duties of my call quite well, but something was amiss. The best I can describe it was that there was a distance between my work and me. I tried to read books on routines and learn how best to focus, but those offered only temporary relief. Finally, I remembered a colleague telling me he regularly saw a spiritual director. Open to any possibility, I began searching for a spiritual director.
By design spiritual directors are not meaning makers or answer-finders. They are many things, but I’d describe mine as a guide who asked questions, pointed out discrepancies in my stories and hopes and probed my soul to see where the Spirit was moving. He asked questions I wasn’t willing to ask myself and because he was an outsider to my church and personal life he was able to ask them without fear of retribution. After the second meeting I realized I’d allowed my world to pile up in my mind and on my heart and it blocked my ability to see the Spirit’s movement or hear her calling. Ask most pastors and they’ll tell you that some days we go home only to realize we hadn’t thought once about our to-do list (this is true for most of us!). Our calls can easily overwhelm our daily lives to the point that we fail to recognize what exactly our call is.
We all need someone to call us out. We can exercise, shift our routines, read books and engage in our solitary experiences in the hopes that something will change, but it is my sincere belief that we need other people to help us see the Spirit moving within our lives. So find a spiritual director or counselor. Here are some tips:
1. The tricky part is determining what you are looking for. Ask yourself if you feel the Spirit moving within you and you need help discerning what she is saying or if you need someone to help you work through personal and/or professional issues? Your answers will reveal who you are looking for.
2. Ask pastor friends or denominational leaders for recommendations for folks who do spiritual direction or counseling. Also, check with your denomination and/or insurance as often pastors are given a particular number of free counseling sessions (PCUSA folks, you get six/year.)
3. Commit to meeting with this individual on a regular basis. I found myself believe I was “over my dilemmas,” therefore not needing a Spiritual Director only to realize new issues, ideas and breathes of the Spirit arose.
4. Develop routines that engage your spiritual life because you won’t always be able to ask your director/counselor for guidance. (Books I’ve found extremely helpful are The Artists Way by Julie Cameron and most books of poetry—poets paint the world wildly using concise, invitational language.)
If you are a church member reading this, ask your pastor if s/he has a spiritual director—then let them know you think it might be a good idea to try. An underlying issue in our society is mental health—there’s a stigma attached to it. One way to relieve that stigma is to talk openly about our need for help—particularly before our world becomes too much to handle. Finally, the more we talk about our need to engage our spiritual and emotional lives the more normal it will become—the world could use a little normalcy!
Note: I’ve focused heavily upon spiritual directors because of their training to help pastors and/or church leaders navigate a particular calling with inherent issues. Not all counselors understand the intricacies of ministry and it can become burdensome to explain one’s work to an untrained ear. Therefore, when you are discerning your needs make sure to figure what you need as that’ll help determine who will be serve you.