I’ve been talking with some trusted friends about what I might do after I’m done with my grad program and one of the things that keeps coming to the forefront of my mind is chaplaincy. I’ve been interested in it since undergrad almost 20 years ago, particularly because that degree is in psych and it seemed like a cool way to connect to other people. And now, as I’ve had more trauma in my own life, I’m inevitably more interested in supporting others in trauma specifically. As a caretaker, I’ve always been drawn to crisis. I never wanted to be the person pulling people out of fires, but I wanted to help those who did that saving work process what they experienced. A supporter of first responders or trauma-touched, so to speak. And as this discernment process came underway, my energy seemed to draw A LOT of opportunities for connection.
I cannot tell you how many people have come up and shared with me really personal stuff in the last few months. I’m totally into it. My experience with it lately has been so different because I’ve postured myself differently than I used to when I was in professional ministry, or even younger when I was in high school. I used to see these types of moments as a burden-transaction. Someone needed to unburden themselves by giving their burdens to me. And I needed to take them and either solve them or carry them. Now I see these moments entirely differently. I see myself as a kitchen colander. A person climbs into my space, a space I create to hold this moment and the energy that moves between us (some might say the Holy Spirit) is like the water washing over. us My part is holding the space. I am not the source of the energy. And when that person climbs out of my space, I am not weighed down. I was honored to have been given the opportunity to hold space and the person in it with me gets to have a moment where they feel seen and heard. The energy and life moving between us isn’t actually coming from either of us. That energy is its own. I like to think it belongs to God. It’s really interesting to experience something that is not your own. I cannot control it and I don’t wield it. But it visits me in these sacred moments.
I’m finding that in my old mindset, where I felt compelled to fix or carry, that I was actually dishonoring the other person. I couldn’t see past myself. And because of that, I took on other people’s work. I can have grace for myself in that because I really didn’t know another way and the churches I’ve been in leadership under have modeled this level of caretaking to me and called it holy. But I don’t think the role of a spiritual leader is to tidy up the pain and vulnerability of other people’s lives. We create a container for people to be open. They open and in vulnerability and safety, they see and do their work. When we step into that space and direct or even take the process from them (often pridefully thinking we know what to do or can do their work better), we are actually crippling the growth of other people. Spiritual direction is not tidying. In fact, spiritual direction embraces the chaos and makes room for it. The wisdom is found in the chaos, not in the tidy space where everything is under the rug. The times that I have seen growth within myself, I have found it while being held up by others, not tidied by them or silenced by judgement. I think the way we hold (or don’t hold) space for others can create or lessen the pain of the people around us.