Keeping an eye on the batteries

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I have a thing about my batteries getting too low, and I don’t just mean on my smartphone or tablet.

It has not been lost on me that I’m moving from one profession who, by and large, takes care of themselves poorly, to another profession  who takes care of themselves poorly.  Physicians historically are at risk for eating poorly, sleeping poorly, ignoring and denying symptoms, or resorting to self-treatment, including self-medication with alcohol and prescription and illegal drugs.  Clergy have higher risks of hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.  Both professions have a significant risk of burnout.  A great deal of attention is made at clergy conferences and diocesan events about self-care; but the fact remains clergy don’t take care of themselves nearly as well as they should.

From the very beginning of my process, I have promised myself to do better this time around.  In so many ways, this is my do-over.  One of the things I do pay close attention to is my “battery level.”  I am very much an introvert, although, as I like to say, “I play an extrovert on TV.”  Put me in a crowd, where I have to be extroverted to do my job, and I literally feel the batteries drain.  There is a place where it is clear to me I’m “red-lining.”  When I’m red-lining, I am prone to be crabby, snap at people, and feel profound despair.  Needless to say, these are not useful pastoral characteristics.

I am still not doing everything as right as I’d like.  For one thing, the flat unvarnished truth is, “My schedule is my schedule.”  Until May, my life is CPE the first part of the week, doing the bulk of my seminary schoolwork the middle of the week, and being a pathologist the end of the week.  That only leaves Saturdays for me and Sundays for God…and a lot of my Saturdays get clogged with errands and the occasional diocesan meeting in St. Louis, 3.5 hours away.  The trip to St. Joseph is 2 hours and 45 minutes one way if I don’t have to stop for gas, and almost 3 hours if I do.  When I had to drive back in a winter storm a few weeks ago, it took 5 hours.

The good news is the car rides give me unfettered prayer time.  The bad news is I am almost at the halfway point in my CPE process and I’m starting to feel the grueling-ness of this constant motion in my triple part-time life.  There’s little room for error–keeping all the assignments straight, working in my activities in the life of the church, working my “day job.”  I have been SO grateful I have not gotten sick yet this winter.  I pray I don’t have any family emergencies.  Some days it seems to be hanging by a thread.

Five years ago, I could not have handled this.  I think the pressure would have exploded me.

I am handling it, I believe, because I’m at least doing SOME things right in self-care.  I pay attention to my “batteries.”  I cook real food for myself, which cheers me, and allows me to eat in a more healthy way. My winter indoor garden really has helped chase away the blues of winter.  Oh, sure, I can be prone to anxiety and despair now and then (I’ll have more to say about that at a later date), yet I do confess I’m starting to get to the place where I’ll be awaiting spring.  Hebrews 11:1-3 hangs in my head:  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.”

There’s no doubt–I’ve had anxious days.  Anxiety can grip me in a way that can nearly paralyze me.  But the good news is it doesn’t last nearly as long as it used to. I think that might be my own faith growing!

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Unstable Domesticity

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From a 1950’s advertisement

Yeah, yeah, I know, when you hear that word “domesticity” this is what comes to mind, or perhaps The Stepford Wives bounces around in your head.  In short, when we hear that word, it tends to have negative connotations because of the whole “cult of domesticity” thing, where women are treated like fragile flowers and pushed into roles of subservience. Continue reading

“What will you put to bed in 2015? To what will you open the door in 2016?”

HNY 2016

The title above is what my CPE supervisor asked us last Monday on the last CPE day of 2015, and I’ve been pondering what to say if she asks us when we are there next week, on the first CPE group day of 2016.

 

You know, I’ve been here before, but I described it a little differently.  Middle age has been a process of recognizing some things about myself–things that may even have kept me alive at one time–but they are now dysfunctional coping mechanisms or behaviors that prevent me from being a transformed person.  I’ve described it as “giving it a gold watch and saying, ‘Thank you for your service, enjoy your retirement.'”

So…

What will I put to bed for 2015?

I think the main one for 2016 is to finally put to bed the need to “be somebody” and to create a public persona grounded in expectations rather than reality.  The reality is I AM somebody, and the best of that somebody doesn’t trade in privilege–she’s open and relatively transparent, and good enough.

My life has definitely been that of an uncomfortable overachiever.  Achievements made me feel smart and worthy.  In my younger life, I was too tied to an identity of success to define my self-worth.  Now, to its credit, it’s what got me out of my hometown and off to college, and later, medical school, and it is what has provided me the means to make the major changes in my life to pursue a call to ordained ministry.  It was what enabled me to stand in front of 150 medical students and act like I knew what I was doing in the times I wasn’t sure.  (Most of the time I totally knew what I was doing, but now and then “being right” trumped “being loving.”

Yet at the same time, it came with a rather steep price tag.  It made me feel hyper-responsible, obsessed with minutiae, and full of unreasonable expectations in others (but mostly in myself.)  I could never live up to who I thought I should be.  It carried the two-edged sword of both the benefit of hiding my insecurity while at the same time nurturing deeper and more hidden insecurities.  “If they knew what I was really like sometimes, would they like me as much?  Would they even respect me?”  Worse yet, hyper-perfection could put me in a place where I couldn’t trust myself.  I began to second-guess myself more and more.

In short, the need to put that perfect person out there publicly can, at times, prevent me from being the person God called me to be.  What my process has taught me in spades is it’s so much less about me and so much more about the community.  It’s less about fear of exposure and more about doing the most loving thing, no matter what.  It’s time to put the need to have a perfect persona to bed.

Sooo…

That brings me to what is it that I will open the door and say, “Come on in?”

It’s the notion that most forms of uncertainty won’t kill me.

It’s no secret that the #1 lesson I learned in life from a very early age was, “Don’t trust.” Now, a person doesn’t just undo that one overnight, and honestly, at age 55-almost-56 I don’t see myself doing much of a shift there.  I’m afraid there’s a part of my brain that is now hard-wired to have a fair amount of distrust as a general rule.

That said, something that was true at times when I was younger and even more so at this point in my life is even with all that distrust, I still manage to put one foot in front of the other and move in the general direction of “the right thing to do.”  A few Ember Day letters back, my bishop pointed out to me that moving towards Christ even when I don’t feel particularly trusting is the exact definition of faith.  So, it turns out I have very little trust, but manage to have faith all the same.  I may not trust much, but I believe I can trust that.

In the past, I compensated for my lack of trust with control (and hyper-control.)  I’ve often joked I’m a terrible 4 point pitch player when it comes to bidding, because I practically have to have an ace and a deuce in my hand to have the confidence to bid two!  That’s pretty much an analogy for my life.  I rarely moved forward unless I was holding an ace and a deuce, so to speak.  This process has pushed me many times to move forward when the hand hasn’t even been dealt yet.  I can become obsessed with the uncertainty of it all.  What I’m learning, though, is that most of the things I obsessed about weren’t worth it–things turn out right enough.  I need to remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good, or, to borrow from the economist George Stigler, “If you never miss a plane, you’re spending too much time at the airport.”

What I’ve learned when I embrace uncertainty, is it opens the door to pleasant surprises I did not expect or imagine–the risk, of course, is that it also creates some situations I’d rather not be in–but I am at least starting to believe that when we’re talking about doing things in love, the rewards outweigh the risk.  The CPE experience has started to remove a lot of the numbness that was my existence for many years, and actually feel my feelings.  Ok, so the difficult ones hurt, but dang, the joyful ones feel awesome!

So, welcome 2016.  I have something to put to bed, and a door to open.  Let ‘er rip!