Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The trouble with good advice...

is how often it transforms itself magically into a weapon with which to beat oneself up.
For example, Caroline at The rollercoaster of life has been having a really rough ride of late, and is doing fantastically – but laments the fact that she’s not yet back to top speed…and we, her friends, were maybe a bit too ready to tell her that she was expecting way too much of herself..so she’s added that to the things to feel bad about.

Meanwhile, in like vein, I was reading Kate Litchfield's Tend My Flock whose subtitle is "Sustaining Good Pastoral Care".
The clue to the guilt-trip is all in that "s"- word
Giving good pastoral care is in many ways the easiest part of ministry for me . It comes naturally …I’ve never not wanted to open my arms and my home to anyone struggling. I guess one legacy of a childhood spent with a seriously ill mother is that the urge to make things better is incredibly strong. Too strong sometimes.

But I know that. When I was on placement during training, I very nearly ran myself into the ground by spending every hour I could in the wonderful parish, then coming home and spending long loooong nights chatting online to a friend who was going through a particularly difficult time. Both areas were priorities. Both needed someone….but I was indispensible to neither.
I think I learned then, and have had numerous reminders since, that we are called, as Oscar Romero so beautifully put it, to be "ministers not messiahs".

Similarly, I know that whatever my instinct towards endless availability, boundaries matter. I almost came unstuck with regard to this earlier in my time here...again, I hope I've learned the lesson of experience, though I'm hugely grateful for those whose wisdom and friendship protect me from my own stuipidity when necessary.
I suspect that whatever else, I know myself quite well by now, and I'm keen to work on weaknesses, butI want books to help me to address them constructively rather than pointing out all the danger-areas with pretty minimal guidance as to what to do if things go wrong.
Litchfield's book is full of good sense, and no less full of scenarios to contemplate...points to reflect on are built in every few pages, so this could almost stand as a workbook for pastoral studies...but escape routes in case of disaster are thin on the ground. It's rather as if she has drawn a map of ministry liberally sprinkled with "here be dragons" - and has invited me to ponder the thickness of the dragons' hides.
Reading , I found myself saying repeatedly "Yes but...." or, alternatively, "That's why I thank God for J, M, M, S et al..."
Because of course, the difference between the friends who hold one accountable and even the most sensitive and helpful handbook is that the friends are just that...friends. They know me, they love me, and, if they find me drowing in a muddle of my own making, they are more likely to throw me a line than to give me a lecture about the folly of arriving there in the first place.

I'd love to have time to start all over again and reorganise myself, my home, my training and all sorts of other aspects to fit with the best practice of the book. I probably will revisit and attempt some of the reflective exercises later...but right now, I just feel rebuked that I'm not doing it "properly" - and more grateful than ever for those who help me keep on track despite all.
So, J, M, M, S et al - hugs and thanks, OK?


Danny said...

I love the Romero quote, it reminds me that I cannot do everything, much as I may want to... and it frees me from guilt over things which seem (to me) to be unresolved.

marcella said...

Your book seems to have had much the same effect on you as the one I've just finished reading has had on me. Your gin or mine?

Caroline said...

Yes, but I needed to hear it - and was grateful for the reminder from you not to beat myself up - and particularly for the late night text which told me you still cared, even when I am over sensitive.