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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Unexpected Consequences

I recently began classes intended to train me to be a Stephen Minister.  To oversimplify what that means, think christian counselor at its most basic level intended to help people in our church or community who are struggling with grief, depression, unemployment and a host of other potential issues.  For your safety, I will not be allowed to perform weddings or funerals.

In our second week, I learned that this was going to be quite different than I had envisioned.  I wrongly assumed it would be a lot of instruction through video and church leaders.  It would be a consumer relationship.  They give the information while I take notes, process and retain for future use.  Do this weekly until around Easter and BAM, Stephen Minister.

About the only thing I got correct was that church leaders trained in this area would take us through the material.  Yet, this is far from two or so hours of consumption each Sunday afternoon.  We actually have to participate in a very hands on and sometimes uncomfortable way.  There is a high level of interaction.  With a class of only three students, you can’t hide or skip a turn.  It can be a little like coming up to bat in the 9th inning with two outs and you haven’t had a hit in months.  At this point you can only hope for a rain delay I suppose.

Moreso than the interaction, it can be uncomfortable because we dig into our own lives during various exercises.  In the class focused on Feelings, we didn’t get to simply read a clinical definition of anger, frustration, sadness, etc.  We had to offer answers to things like:  Tell us about a time when you felt ________.  How did that experience shape you?  Tell us about a situation when you should have taken action or said something and didn’t?  How did your inaction impact others?  How do you think things would be different had you done something different in this situation?

I don’t know about you, but I bury some things so deep in the closet that they are likely to never be found.  This may not always be intentional, but that is exactly where I like them.  I signed up to fix other people, not open wounds or relive emotions of times gone by in my own life.  

Yet, I learned very quickly that emotions simply can’t be learned or adequately recalled through a textbook.  We need to be reminded what many of them really feel like in order to understand their depth and weight.  

Further, it has been a clear demonstration of how people mask emotions.  If we don’t have any luck burying something out of plain sight, we cover over it with a smile and an unconvincing “I’m fine, doing well.”  We have (ok, I have anyway) decided that it is better not to share our feelings than to burden others with them.  The internal dialogue invariably walks us through the steps necessary to reach that conclusion.  The worst part is the more you do that, the more you do that (that is an awesome sentence…kind of like Yogi Berra).

I suppose we just don’t want to be seen as weak or whiny.  Again, when I say “we” I should probably be saying “I” if I’m being honest.  I, like many, have become really good at transferring things I do to a broader audience so as not to draw attention to myself or be asked questions.  I’m not suggesting we lay our soul on the cashier at the cleaners, but in intimate relationships transparency of feelings is a healthy policy.

So as I’m learning to recognize these traits in others, I continue to recognize them in me.  Sometimes self improvement comes at a cost.  Unearthing old junk or exposing my roots should help me lead others through the same process.  It’s either that or the nut farm…I guess we’ll see.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace