Saturday, 17 February 2018
Preacher, heal thyself. A musing.
I've written here of my experiences of extreme exhaustion during my time in Scotland doing the PhD. Prolonged stress, mainly due to financial limitations, took its toll on my health. I ached through my muscles and my bones. I slept a lot and always needed more. My mind was foggy, my energy lacking, my mood low, and I felt constantly like there was a cold brewing in my sinuses.
This week, it felt like that again. It hurt to move. I woke up feeling like I had run a marathon. Clarity of thought eluded me. I was slow and nauseated and when I lay down to sleep last night, I was incredibly unhappy.
Absent from the office, withdrawing from commitments, doing the bare minimum. So early in my new position, did I want to be so unreliable?
Was I being hard on myself? Probably.
As I lay down to sleep last night, I was struggling to understand why this was happening again.
Lots of new things all at once is exhausting, certainly, but was that all?
I remembered back to the last time I moved somewhere new, far from home, on my own. Did it feel like this, then? Yes; and no. Last time, I wasn't the only one embarking on a daunting new adventure; I wasn't the only one far from home; and I was where I had intended to be, planned to be, worked hard to be, for a long, long, time.
Back in congregational ministry is still somewhat unexpected, after three years of immersion in academia seemingly preparing for further adventures in academia. Not unwanted, although I did fear I was beginning to have regrets. But, no, that wasn't it.
In Edinburgh, most of the friends I made were from somewhere other than Edinburgh. There is a similar quality to Canberra, people having come from elsewhere, for a season, or to stay. And as well as not being alone in that here, I am also closer to my family than I was in Edinburgh. So that's not it, either.
I am not alone in ministry here; in fact, I am in an increasingly rare situation of team ministry in the church, where even single full time paid ordained positions are diminishing in number. That's not it – well, not quite. The last three years, going through the experience of the PhD from start to (almost - some of them aren't there yet) finish, I forged friendships of solidarity with people with whom I have grown used to sharing the ups and downs of life. In Christian communities in Edinburgh, I likewise forged friendships with people who shared experiences, with whom I collaborated in creative endeavours, shared meals, prayed, danced, cried, laughed. Friendship is different when you are in the same place, as I learned while the friendships with people at 'home' in Adelaide changed, inevitably, during those three years away. And friendship takes time, and I have been in this place only five minutes. But even that isn't it, really.
I realised last night, as I thought through it all, that I am homesick for Edinburgh, for my friends there, whom I had grown used to seeing, and have not now seen for nearly four months. I miss them. I miss the confidantes, the ones I laughed with and cried with and drank gin and ate haggis with. I miss the kind of friendship we had, and I miss the particular people I love, being part of their everyday lives and sharing our stories.
Making new friends here will take time. And I feel that task is more daunting when the people with whom I spend most time are my pastoral responsibility. That changes the nature of your relationship. Not that I won't be friends with these good folk, I will, I already am with some of them. But nothing can replace time, for a start, and we've not had much of that. And there is no escaping the constraints ethically placed on these relationships, if I am to fulfil my role with integrity. It may take more time than it did in Edinburgh to find the people with whom I may find that kind of friendship again, more energy. For my work is with people this time, rather than on my own, and I find health when I balance evenly the time I spend with people and on my own. To find new friends, I will want to go beyond the congregation as well as spending time doing life with the people I serve as minister. That will take time.
As I named the source of the sorrow, that loneliness only time will heal, I seem to have found some freedom. This morning I woke up still in pain, aching in my muscles and my bones. But the aching in my soul had eased somewhat. I still felt ill, exhausted, and slow today. But I seemed able again to find joy and motivation for the tasks that needed attention.
And this, as I prepared a sermon for the first Sunday of Lent that encourages us to face the darkness, spend time there, if we are to fully embrace the light. Preacher heal thyself, I suppose.