Preacher, heal thyself. A musing.

Visitors staying with me for five days, induction service on the weekend: and then, all finished, I crash.

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.


Mel said…
You have said what the solution is,and the only solution... time. Don't beat yourself up over feeling like this, just let it do it's thing and eventually it will dissipate. Homesickness has a bell curve and/or comes in waves that you must let come. When you miss your Edinburgh life all I can recommend is calling a new friend and doing something with them (remember Adore Tea House when we visited Danii?!). Get out of the house. Try to embrace the new life while fondly recalling the old.
Oh...and skype, of course.
You will get there x
sarah said…
Thank you, dear friend x

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