Nearly two months have passed since the last time I felt compelled to write publicly, and while I’ve written much in that time, most of it has been for me. Settling into a new place, a new life, a new way of being — it takes energy and focus. Acclimating to a new job (and a new setting) was a rocky experience, and I realized that I couldn’t sustain the energy I was putting into making my life and journey a public one. I’ve learned from other friends who spend time and energy in the public sphere the burden of always being “on,” and to do the ministry I feel called to do, I can’t afford to use my emotional stores in such a way. I miss writing, but I’m thankful for the ways I’ve been able to show up away from the keyboard.
When I first began my journey into the realm of clinical chaplaincy, I joked often about the task of chaplaincy being “95% knowing your own shit.” Take it down 10-20% and that’s more accurate. In order to be fully present with my patients and their families, I have to know who I am and what I bring into the room, into the conversation. Someone like me drools over the task of “knowing myself.” I am a Four after all. This task, however, is a double-edged sword; and thus we come to the core of my work since I last wrote.
It is a fact of life, at least in my own experience, that our journeys are made up of choices, of actions and reactions. To live in relationship with others is to delve into the constant push and pull between us and the other. A patient or a friend shares something, I listen, and somewhere inside me, a feeling or a thought surfaces. Words come out of my mouth, or my facial expression changes, or my body language shifts. Maybe my tone of voice deepens (or rises, as is often my own predicament). Whoever I am engaging in that moment takes notice of one or all of these things, and the same thing happens to them. Maybe they take offense, or maybe they feel a sense of connection. Maybe they get mad, feeling like I didn’t really hear them; or maybe they’re caught off guard upon sensing that I did hear them. This is life. Push and pull. Back and forth. Inwards and outwards…
… except when you get stuck …
… which I do …
… a lot …
There is a book we used often in my CPE residency, so much so that, by the end of the program we all owned a copy. Sometimes we called it the big blue book of Enneagram, or maybe the Enneagram “bible.” Regardless, in the past two months, I’ve made it my task to read not only about my type, but about all the types. I haven’t made it too far, but I’ve learned one thing so far: I’m not that different, and even when I am, I’m still not.
We all have fears, anxieties, insecurities. Most of us are scared to death of being alone. We all get angry, or sad, or confused. Simply put, we’re all human, and that shared experience is worth remembering at all times, because when we forget it, that’s when we go wrong. That’s when we miss each other, stop listening, and resort to hurting each other deeply, violently, or maliciously.
It’s part of my personality type to treat my internal emotions as actual reality. If I feel it, then it must be true. If I imagine that someone finds me annoying, then that’s a fact. If I think someone sees me as ugly or unattractive, then I have to be right. We all do this — act and react, assume, perceive. For many if not most of us, we stop at our reactions and our assumptions, consequently cutting ourselves off from others. Our fears become embedded, and our insecurities concretize.
But when we use our energy to get out of our heads and into our relationships, things change. We can check in and see what the other person is thinking, feeling, seeing, or hearing. We can ask how we’re being experienced or received, and then we can do something really amazing: we can change. We can stop reacting solely to our assumptions, or our fears, or our insecurities, and we can actually experience real relationship and true connection.
Don’t get me wrong: this is horrifying, especially at first. We’re bound to make mistakes, and unfortunately, we might end up losing some relationships along the way. It will hurt, and we will have to grieve. But as we grow and change and improve, we’ll see our relationships flourish and deepen. We’ll become unbound from all that baggage, and finally, we’ll see the real truth: we’re okay, and we’re loved.
photo credit: Fouquier (via Flickr), cc
This piece originally appeared on Michael’s blog, Finding the Balance.
MICHAEL OVERMAN is a graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL. As a self-admitted “old soul”, Michael is more than comfortable asking the tough questions and not having immediate answers. Michael is passionate about all things interfaith, challenging the religious status quo — and baking whenever possible.
As he says, “Running from God is easy… running back to God is anything but.” He tried parish ministry. Too hot. He tried the nonprofit sector. Too cold. He finally tried hospital chaplaincy. Just right.
Michael currently lives in Vancouver, WA where he is a hospital chaplain. In his spare time, he loves chocolate, wine, and scifi.
Check out more of Michael’s writing at www.findingthebalance.net.