If you are an empath and a preacher’s kid, you will hear everything they ever say about anything going on at work; you will take on the entire congregation’s pain as your own. How generally depends on which parent is the pastor, because of the way our filters for each parent are used to create a picture of what’s really going on. I have never done a day’s work as a pastor, and I never will in some sense. That’s because I did it by proxy for 17 years. I worried about every single one of you all the time. I listened in on every single conversation I possibly could to run it through the heuristics created by listening to my father’s end of talking someone through trauma in the moment. It was a manual on what to do when other people are in trouble. It’s the reason he got into medicine, that he was frustrated at not being able to fix people. That thoughts and prayers weren’t enough. He was that phrase before it was cool.
So, I’ve approached every church and every pastor I’ve ever known with the same recognition that part of them is totally full of crap. There’s only so much of your real self you can show in front of other people before your weird gets on them and the church crashes and burns. I have watched it happen over and over because I’ve stayed active in different churches as an observer to the same behavior I experienced in all the others. I could often predict how a church would vote on something because I’d been a preacher’s kid in a system with a Bishop and active in Congregational churches, seeing both systems and knowing the inherent advantages and disadvantages.
In a church, I’m generally the person that knows what’s about to happen and I don’t say anything because it isn’t worth it. People on committees get all up in their feelings when everything starts going down and it’s too much emotion to take on from too many people when I am standing in the room, absorbing it all and unable to shake it off. I also don’t think there’s a pastor alive that likes getting notes, so I’m much better off in every area if I pretend that no sausage is being made.
It’s why there are things that irritate the shit out of me about going to church and also why I still do it a little bit. It’s not shame or regret. It’s “been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.” I made a conscious decision to step away from ministry so that my crazy spatter doesn’t get on anyone else. I feel that way about belonging to a congregation sometimes, too, because I can’t turn off that tape that I don’t deserve pastoral care, like doctors don’t often take care of themselves. They think they can take care of themselves and they’re the best doctor they’ve got. It’s the difference between surviving and thriving. Power with rather than power over. Not only that, being the best doctor you’ve got isn’t a ringing endorsement sometimes, because you won’t call for a consult (get a second opinion from the patient’s perspective).
I have heard a lot of my stepmom’s conversations with patients and because I was also bound to HIPPA (I worked there at times and didn’t retain the information otherwise. I basically just called your pharmacy, don’t freak.), I learned how to take care of a patient population as well, not from a clinical standpoint, but emotional. Here’s how you tell someone they have something. Here’s how you take a history and physical. Here are the questions that are above your pay grade.
I never stopped being a preacher’s kid, it just added a different dimension reinforcing the same thing. It’s like INFJ on the job training. Just bleed out emotionally for everyone because they deserve it so much more than you. It’s knowing you need to protect your energy; that will save you from a lot of harm, not knowing you can’t literally pour everything out for other people and expect to maintain normalcy in your own world. I have a very live and let live with this. Stay in my life or go, because I’ll handle it whether you take five minutes for me to grieve or decades. I am strong enough to know that no matter what, I’ll be okay. I have an emotional toolbox and the willpower to use it.
I only need to focus on what I have to write that day to understand me. I can’t think of anyone else who needs it more, on both the medical and pastoral spectrum. Comprehension of another person is key, so why am I not giving this kindness to myself? I have myself permission to stand up. To at least apologize if I couldn’t do more to ask for forgiveness, and at the same time, knowing when it was wasted energy. People only hear you through the filter of what they understand, so if the same fight keeps coming up over and over and over, you know that the person isn’t hearing you and you need to change gears or it will never resolve.
I think of every relationship I have in that pastoral way, which is why my gift is helping other people. I have had an example of what to say when people are in crisis since I could talk. I am often not as gentle as I could be about it because I am not a patient person after a certain amount of time. I give much, and keep my hopes up, It serves neither of us in a relationship…. because you constantly waffle between asking for things and apologizing for your existence. Only the words “I’m sorry” mean that someone is. Adding or subtracting anything, as well as never saying them, are both issues. I do not mean that you do not mean an apology. It’s that people don’t naturally infer them. Saying that you’re not perfect isn’t the same as I’m sorry even if you mean it that way. It makes the other person do too much work trying to figure out what is even happening.
There’s also a difference between “I’m sorry I behaved that way” and “I’m sorry your reaction was so large.” There are very few problems in the universe that are black and white. The former is a genuine apology. The latter is caring more about how you felt in the moment than they did. It doesn’t make the other person feel acknowledged, like you recognize the gravity of the situation even if you can’t change a thing.
With preacher’s kids, they hear these patterns described so they see them coming a mile off because their sample size for heuristics is the size of the congregation. My father’s last church was approximately 1600-2000 people depending on whether it was Ordinary Time, Christmas, or Easter.
It helps when I’m in any relaxed group to know how they work, because church is more relaxed than the office right up until someone’s in trouble. The larger the congregation, the more times this can happen. It was hell week at my dad’s largest church, but it didn’t affect me as much as the people involved. Seriously, the week we got there, a teenage boy’s father (also a member) died in a boating accident, another teenager found out her father was keeping her away from his other family, and the youth group had been caught at camp playing strip poker. That’s what I was walking into as a preacher’s kid. An intruder on all kinds of grief, especially if they didn’t know my dad and thought the last one was better until proven otherwise. He had no trust capital, so neither did I.
I carried that around with me, too. People think preacher’s kids are supposed to somehow be better than everyone else, judging them harshly for falling from any height at all. There’s very little gray area between perfectly perfect and “the one we don’t talk about.”
There’s not really a point to this except character study. To show why I do understand people and groups because I’ve been doing it the whole time, even when I wasn’t actively looking.