Following a rather long counseling session with a mother who is dealing with the complexities of her daughter’s breast cancer, she asked as we were leaving the room, “Who takes care of you? Who is your minister?” My mind began to ponder that question, and I found myself searching for an answer. Who actually does minister to me at the deepest levels of my own needs?
When ministers and rabbis are married or in relationship, certainly that significant other becomes a confidant and helper. Yet at the same time, the weightier issues that are told in confidence can often pile one on the other and create a very heavy heart. In some of the more structured faith traditions, a minister might have a superior in whom to confide, like a bishop or regional minister. Though that structure is in place, my suspicion is that it is seldom used. For those of us who do not have that structure, it is a good bit more difficult.
I have no idea where it originated, but I clearly recall a little poem that went something like this:
“A burden to bear, a sorrow to quell
And no one at all whom I can tell.
Some griefs are shared and some are known
But some the heart bears all alone.
Time passes quickly and even I
May not remember by and by.”
The one line that creates the deepest feeling for me is that one that talks about the heart bearing burdens all alone. Perhaps the reason it resonates so passionately is that it is very true for me, and I suspect many others. As ministers, we are privileged to listen to and counsel individuals and families who have some heart-wrenching circumstances. These struggles we are asked to keep in confidence and must remain silent about except in prayer.
Often I have wished for an opportunity to engage in dialogue with other clergy colleagues about this uniqueness of our calling. How much of our ministry is borne all alone? And who is there to listen or counsel when we as ministers have personal or family issues? When and how do we make information about ourselves known? These are haunting questions for ministers, but ones which we should find an answer to.
When the mother had departed from our session, I sat and attempted to find an answer to her question. Oddly enough, I could not find an adequate answer that was satisfactory. The truth for me is simply this — I am a minister with no minister. Perhaps I have falsely believed that I was fully capable of bearing alone every burden of every person who came to me for compassionate care. How ironic that it took a person who was seeking a minister to bring me to an awareness that I should also seek one. The question remains, however. Who ministers to the minister?
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