As a woman who daily serves others in business and in ministry, and who has for many years, I know a lot of people whose mission it is to help others.
It is no secret that a large majority of those drawn to help others have experienced significant brokenness in his or her own life. (If that was a secret, “SPOILER ALERT!”) While our stories of calling into ministry or work as a helping professional are many and varied, it seems to me that, for the most part, the decision to help others helps us make sense of our own pain and brokenness.
Counseling classes in graduate school were like therapy, and by design. Class time and homework assignments were our opportunity to really work through some significant areas of damage and scarring in order to find growth and healing. Key memories – things that stand out from your early years, even if they seem ordinary and insignificant – were always interesting starting points for me to dig through my unique brand of screwiness.
I remember clearly my dad scolding me as a ‘tween when he learned I had gone to school without a coat, saying, “You have to take care of yourself!” with an emphasis on the “have to.”
As a young adult, I learned how true that statement can be. Even into my later adulthood, I reluctantly admitted that I am the only person who can or will take care of me. Please don’t misunderstand that statement: I love and am loved by many people, but, in my adult life, I have not been the recipient of much ordinary care-giving. I qualify that with “ordinary,” because I have been well cared-for and cared-about in many extraordinary circumstances. But certain key people I thought would (or should) take care of me have failed me in devastating ways. In spiritual terms, I have felt loved and cared for by God, manifested in both ordinary and supernatural ways. Somehow, though, I developed an “I don’t need you” persona in my everyday, natural life. I’m sure it developed as a defense mechanism, but it doesn’t serve me very well.
As someone who has pledged to care for and serve others, I must consistently address my embedded sense of having to take care of myself, which is sister to a sense of distrust. I have years and years of independence and single parenting behind me that scream louder than any of my subtle hints at needing anything from any other human. That loud, screaming, self-sufficient ego prevents me from the vulnerability needed to become a community insider. It doesn’t prevent me from leading in certain contexts, but it keeps me on the margins of intimacy within my community if I am not diligent to make myself vulnerable – not just to God, but to at least a few people in my circle.
Now, believe me, I’m not alone in this little secret habit of giving without receiving. In ministerial or helping profession leadership positions, it is not advisable to make yourself entirely vulnerable in a very broad sense to the community in which you serve, but it is highly encouraged to find an inner circle wherein you can “break it all down” and allow someone to care for you and help with your emotional and practical needs.
Speaking on behalf of my fellow helping professionals and ministers, I want to encourage you to show an extra bit of care this week to those people in your community assigned or ordained to take on any role of service. They may never ask for it in an entire lifetime, but when received, it is of enormous value and encouragement! Three cheers, hugs, (and a dozen roses?) for the helpers!