I get quiet on this blog when there is a lot going on in my personal life. That’s certainly true right now. Two teenagers make for sleepless nights and a constant buzz of conflict under the surface of everything. After all, it’s their job to push parents and authority away. I get preoccupied and I’m never sure how much I can say here. After all, this is a public place and the rules of ministry apply.
But what are the rules of ministry? I know I learned that anything that might cause my congregants to feel like they needed to minister to me is dangerous–if not outright forbidden. But I’ve learned from colleagues that their moments of weakness–whether illness or stress-related–have sometimes become opportunities for the congregation to reach out to each other and to the minister in ways that strengthened both. So what do you think? What level of personal sharing is appropriate from a minister to the congregation?
I learned too that I cannot tell anyone’s story publicly without their permission. I believe that with my whole heart and so I cannot tell you the specifics of what is happening because–well, it’s not my story to tell. It affects me, but it’s not my story. Then again, I’ve learned the dangers of too much confidentiality in churches. When no one feels free to tell the minister–or anyone else–that they know someone is struggling and could use a kind word, churches aren’t able to do what they are meant to do. One of the most powerful things a religious community can do is hold someone as they go through a hard time. Not fix it, not say “everything will be all right,” but just be there, accompanying one another. How much is confidentiality a hindrance to that? How is respecting people’s privacy different than expectations of confidentiality?
The longer I’m in ministry, the more complex my answers to these questions get. I know I don’t help my heartfelt campaign agains perfectionism in our churches if I run around trying to pretend that everything is always okay with me and my house. I know too, that I don’t want people to think that I’m trying to say I can’t do my job. I can. I just might be quiet, preoccupied, and low energy. I may even be sad and not have my usual chipper, “Everything will be wonderful!” attitude. It has nothing to do with the church and everything to do with me being a real human being.
Reading what I’ve written I worry that I’ve already said too much. It’s so easy to revert to being Superman. Or the Lone Ranger. The truth is I hate it when I can’t do my very best in every single thing I do. A therapist once told me that my biggest coping mechanism is “hyper-competence.” The more stressed I am the more I want to be perfectly competent, brilliant, and extraordinary. I get really mad at myself when I’m not. I hate looking weak and interpret any mistake or lack in myself to weakness. I know a lot of ministers who share this propensity. As Cynthia said over at her blog, “Come on, y’all, everybody’s kids can not be doing THAT well.”
So what’s a minister to do? I get quiet. I have a hard time writing here because I’m not very good at pretense. I don’t know what to say when I can’t say exactly what I’m thinking and feeling. I look and look for “safe” topics and discard them all one by one. Nothing’s safe enough because I might just blurt out the truth: I’m having a hard time right now and I don’t know how to handle that or what I can say. I don’t need to be taken care of, but I may need some understanding, some patience, and a kind word or two.