Yesterday was brutal: Mass, preaching, lunch with parishioners and then 4.5 hours worth of pastoral counselling! It's a strange phenomenon, but the demands on my pastoral care giving definitely clusters. I'll go weeks and weeks without much more than dealing with the normal low-level stuff and then, BANG, I'll have several unrelated situations pop up at once. Why yesterday? I have no idea. Some were people I know, others were more random. Some were situations I knew I would be dealing with, but most were not. So a few observations from a long day giving this kind of support:
What you (the Counsellor) need, you will be given
I really wondered a couple of times whether I would have the energy toward the end of the day to be useful in my role as a Pastor, but each time I sat down with someone I found myself becoming energized by the engagement. Once you start listening to the story, you find you have all the energy you need.
I also find, in my experience, that it's pretty useless to spend much energy before hand trying to prepare a response. "The answer is always in the client," I remember one of my mentors in Social Work telling me. And it's true! When I listen to someone in need I usually have no trouble at all realizing what to do and say in that moment. It's not magic, just a lot of experience, training, and prayer.
There is a special relationship between the Pastor's Prayers and Pastoral Care
I find that my personal devotions and prayers have taken on a very different quality since I become directly involved in ministry. It's not just that I have specific people and situations to pray about, but that somehow the pastoral relationship (me to parishioner) changes the priestly relationship (me to God). Hard to describe--but I just know that the more engaged I am in any particular season of my ministry with people in need the more I find my prayer life feeling very different.
One difference is that I'm often very aware of God's presence in counselling situations. I can feel it. Moreover, I sometimes feel as though I'm intuiting how I can cooperate with that grace. I'm not saying that's always the case--but often I feel very clear in my own self about God's presence and affection and how I should be incarnating that.
It's a wonderful confirmation of vocation (which we all need from time-to-time) to be sitting a chair listening and talking and praying and just know, deep in your bones, that you are doing exactly what God wants you to be doing. This is all the more striking when I note that the person I'm counselling doesn't necessarily see it that way! Love can be gentle, but love can be pretty sharp sometimes, too.
I'm not trying to say I'm any kind of master counsellor or anything, just that I really like the way God is shaping me through this ministry. I haven't spoken this deeply about pastoral care with any of my colleagues recently, but I suspect many of them may have similar feelings.