A few weeks ago, just beginning the Clinical Pastoral Education process as a chaplain intern, I asked some questions of the fears I was feeling:
Okay, Fear. Who are you? What do you like? What do you not like? Where did you come from? Where are you going? How can I make you feel welcome? How can I invite you to rest? How can we make room for each other, work together, be together?
What gift have you brought me? What gift can I give you?
Maybe I should not be surprised that Fear answered back, but I am surprised … mainly by the shifts taking place. They are small, but real, and undeniable. I wish I could tell you how that has happened, but honestly, CPE has been such an overwhelming experience that I don’t feel like I have had the time or bandwidth to fully reflect on what’s happening, around me or within me.
I can say I have been trying to have a conversation with my fears, and to see what good they’ve done me, rather than just obliterate them. And I’ve been reading up on the questions, which is my modus operandi with anything I’m trying to learn. In this case, I have found particularly useful the insights from Quiet (another great TED talk here) and The Highly Sensitive Person (the section on vocation was scary-accurate).
With self-understanding is coming greater and greater self-acceptance. And fast on the heels of self-acceptance has come greater acceptance of others. This is as undeniable as it is welcome.
I am finding it easier to “get into the room” … and to trust my need to find other works to do when I am worn out with personal contact and can’t stand another moment of facetime. Now that I am getting into the room, the challenge is — of course — growing into doing better work in the room.
But before running ahead, indulge me for a minute. Let me lean into the questions, freestyle, and just see what comes up, now that I’ve had a chance to live with them for a while. Maybe nothing will happen, except for the pressure valve on my heart easing a little. Then again … well, let’s just see.
* * *
Curious Me: Okay, Fear. Who are you?
Fearful Me: I’m your protector. I’ve been protecting you since you were too little to protect yourself.
Curious: What do you like?
Fearful: I like when you don’t ignore me or bulldoze through me. Just listen to me for a minute. I’m trying to help. And I have helped. I’ve kept you from situations where you would have experienced a lot of pain.
Curious: What do you not like?
Fearful: I don’t like it when you don’t listen to me or respect me. I’m not bad … and I’m not weak. I’m a force for your good, if you’ll just pay attention.
Curious: Where did you come from?
Fearful: I grew into and around the space where you were getting hurt when you were a little girl. I wanted to protect you, to stop the hurt from hitting you again.
Curious: Where are you going?
Fearful: I’m not going anywhere until I think you’re strong enough. Question is, where are you going, and can you get there without me?
Curious: Good question. I didn’t see that one coming. How can I make you feel welcome?
Fearful: Take me into account. Feel me … see things from my perspective. Don’t dismiss me until you’ve heard me out. Have a good argument and evidence for why I am not right.
Curious: How can I invite you to rest?
Fearful: I won’t rest until you are safe. I love you too much.
Curious: Wow. I’m trying to love you, but I’m not sure I’m there yet. So, how can we make room for each other, work together, be together?
Fearful: It would help if you would acknowledge me; you’ve been trying to crowd me out for years. I’m not the one who needs to make room; you are. I’ve been working to protect you, and you just keep running roughshod over me or ignoring me. I think it’s for you to learn to live with me.
Curious: I had no idea you were going to be so tough! Okay, next to last question: What gift have you brought me?
Fearful: Your life. You wouldn’t be here without me.
Curious: I should probably quit there. One last question: What gift can I give you?
Fearful: Acknowledge that I’ve always been trying to take care of you … and I still am.
Curious: I hear you, Fear. I hadn’t realized the full extent of what you were trying to do … I always just thought of you as a hindrance, when I thought of you at all. I didn’t recognize you in your Protector guise.
Fearful: It’s not all me, you know. Some of it is your temperament; you are hard-wired to react to the unknowns and stimulation of new people and new places.
Curious: Yes … I’m starting to learn that. And you’ve been trying to shield me from that.
Fearful: Well, yeah! I don’t want you to hurt or be put out!
Curious: Thank you. But you know, Fear, life is going to hurt sometimes. I’m going to be put out, worn out, not to mention uncomfortable, even angry. That’s okay. I appreciate the negative things you’ve helped me avoid … but you’ve kept me from some things that probably would have been positive. And I never got to go there.
Fearful: You might be right.
Curious: If I promise to listen to you, and I work at that, do you promise to try to let go when I ask you to? To sit back and let me try to handle whatever the situation is?
Fearful: I guess so.
Curious: I promise you can jump in there if things get too crazy.
Fearful: As if I’m going to wait for permission!
Curious: Right. I knew that.
* * *
End of daydream. (Maybe.) Most surprising discovery? That Fear loves me. Who knew? Best part is, the more rooms I get into, the more folks I get to care for. My heart’s growing faster than the Grinch’s, and it’s only June.