I’m not really sure when the unraveling, fraying began. There was no one bad sermon, or tragic life experience that wore me down. In the late 90s I had a coveted staff chaplain position at a prestigious cancer research institute. From the looks of things, I should have been happy, however, my unacknowledged restlessness, discontent, even depression, was a slow creep that came about while I worked VERY hard to take care of myself, and complete my board certification process. Fancy that? Doing all the right things I knew to do, and still…the fatigue.
The fourth or fifth spring after I was endorsed with the American Baptist and had been minted as a board certified chaplain, it was time to write my annual review to the denominational office that oversees professionals working outside the church, i.e chaplains, pastoral counselors. In addition to writing a narrative case review as one example of a year’s worth of my work, the standard yellow form asked some standard questions:
“How many people have you led to Christ?” “How many churches have you helped to plant this last year?
The first few years I respectfully responded in sincerity with, “None that I know of.” By the 4th or 5th spring, my written reviews with my answer, “None that I know of,” were accompanied by a cover letter to the director of the review office suggesting that they might consider altering those standard questions at the bottom of the page, and ask about other things like… what are you hoping for as your practice evolves as a professional healthcare chaplain, or what are your enlivened questions that you’re playing with right now? or what keeps you up at night with curiosity/wonder? No personal reply, just a standard acknowledgment letter that I passed once again, remaining in GOOD STANDING. Institutionalized people (with a good heart) listen, but they do not hear.
I was not able to continue to just go along for the sake of GOOD STANDING. It took me 2+ years to make my very painful decision about releasing my endorsement and certification as a chaplain. It wasn’t just about the yellow form! It was so much more. The constellation of non-nurturing experiences were telling my soul, This is not feeding you! The wellbeing of my heart required radical, intentional, even drastic steps. And so I moved forward.
More of the story to come.