Sunday, May 21, 2006

Liability

I think I'm figuring something out from all this drama. Those of you in ministry can tell me whether this jives with your experience.

I really want people to like me. I think most people do - but I do in a way that is basically a liability. I spent a lot of years with hatred - hatred I couldn't help because it manifested from jealousy over my abilities. Throughout most of school, until I started making some really true friends in college, most people eyed me with suspicion because I was just too good at most things. There was even a club organized against me. It was called S.A.S.S. - Students Against Stasi Smith. They think I didn't know about it, but of course I did. Someone had the audacity to write SASS in my yearbook and it wasn't too hard to figure it out from there (it helped that I was aware of SAMM - against another dear girl whose initials were MM).

So anyway, all of that is to say that I grew up figuring out that mostly people didn't like me. And I was pretty much a very selfish person. I don't know if I was protecting myself or what. But I was a bitch...or at least, I was extremely hard to love. I definitely cared about myself more than others.

Then I moved to LA, and I got to start over. I got to create a new person since nobody knew me. I decided a couple years ago that I was going to focus as much as I could on being a good friend. I prayed very hard that God will humble me and would allow me to have some girlfriends. I'd never had girlfriends because I was too catty. I knew if I could get along with girls, which had always been my problem, I would be a good friend.

And I'm really blessed that God has helped a lot and I've got some wonderful girlfriends. I've even had people tell me they can't imagine people not liking me. Which is about the best thing anyone could say to me. I keep having to work on the humility - it was my Lent lesson again this year - but I wonder if pride isn't one of the majorist problems we humans will always have to work on.

Wow, I totally didn't mean to go into this self-revealing stuff. But this is where I'm headed. You see, on the blog, I think I revert to the old woman. The one who people don't like. Because I'm somewhat anonymous. And because I want to let this side out on here, so it doesn't come out in "real life." You get that? But then when people respond as they did to her, I get hurt now, because I don't have the defenses I used to have. I can't ignore it because the new woman comes in and wants to be everybody's friend.

I would imagine this is a problem for ministry. Both extremes. Either wanting to be liked so much that you're unable to call people out prophetically, or not caring what people think so you become hard and hurt people. I feel like I'm walking a tightrope - and sometimes I fall off, like last night. Figuring out who to be is hard. It's harder when people look to you for spiritual knowledge. I won't say advice or wisdom. But people tell me that I'm telling them good stuff. So then I go a little overboard. Or maybe I don't. Maybe I say what God tells me to, and people just don't want to hear it. I don't know. I've been called a prophet on here and it's a really burdensome mantle. Am I being prophetic or just bitchy? Who knows?

Well anyway, how do you ministers deal with this need to be liked and accepted vs. the need to be a spiritual guide that has to deal with hard stuff? I confess I'm just never going to be one of those wonderful gentle people who always has the perfect shepherd persona. I've tried and it's not me. So how do you tame your insides that burn at injustice or at apathy or at, even, messing around with the sacraments? Or how do you deal with the aftermath, if you decide to let it out?

Teach me!

6 comments:

revabi said...

Wow,
You really got a tongue lashing in the last two posts over the ritual of Holy Communion. In the book of worship the Methodist call it The Great Thanksgiving. I like that giving thanks, saying I am sorry, remembering what Christ did, receiving the Holy Spirit, and then bread and wine as the means of grace.

It is a struggle when a church does a contemporary service, how will they do the sacraments. We sat down together, the Pastor and I and the worship committee to come up with the language that would work without giving up the power and the meaning them. When done right it is a beautiful service that touches us deep within.

You have chosen Episcopalian which values liturgy, word and sacrament. You would be put off by what happen, it is really okay to be put off and angry about it. And frankly this is your blog, and you have a right to say what you want to say. You have the right to ask people to respect your feeling and thoughts and to not be derogatory toward you. Disagree but disagree in love.

Now as far as wanting to be liked as a liability. It is a liability, because you will not be able to get them to totally like you, and you will always try to do more and more to get them to. My Bishop, Will Willimon says if you are not pissing your parishioners off you are not doing your job. he says to remember they didn't like what Jesus had to say either. He says real Chistianity is dangerous, and is not about being liked. Yep, good ole Will, he sure hasn't pastored a church in awhile with people who pay your salary or not. But he is right, not everyone is going to like you. And I think it is a balancing act, being aware when you are going over on one side or the other. It is a struggle for me because I want to be like, please people, due to a lot of insecurity. I think you hit upon an answer when you talked about prayer, we seek God's wisdom in how to deal with people and certain situations.

Rachel said...

I know what you mean about wanting to be liked. I mean, I really, really know what you mean. *g* I expect that's pretty common among those of us who choose ministry. Of course, we can't always be liked; we won't always be. And that can be painful.

I'm not sure what the solution is. But when I was doing CPE this year, one of the hospital chaplains on staff (a wonderful priest named Father Bob) reminded me that when someone summarily throws me out of their hospital room, that's not about me -- it's about them, their stuff, their baggage, what "chaplain" means to them, and is not a reflection of me or a sign that I'm ill-suited for this work.

Of course, when someone welomes me immediately and warmly, that's not about me either. Which is harder for me to swallow; I want the compliments to stick and the insults to roll off! But I think that's something to strive for -- an awareness that my integrity is not damaged either by praise or by dislike. That some people will love me and others will dislike me intensely, and sometimes that will have something to do with who I am or what I've done and sometimes it won't, and even so I have to try to find a way to love them, or at least to feel compassion for them, because ministry is about relating to the spark of God in all people, even the ones who hate me.

The Feminarian said...

Thank you both so much. These two responses have been hugely uplifting and helpful for me! (but ya'll don't have to stop!)

Marshall said...

Beloved Younger Sister: (I don't know how old you are, but I've been ordained 25 years, and start this way out of that context. Yeah, sometimes I'm pompous.)

Like most things, wanting people to like you isn't a liability, or at least not a terrible one. It is natural and human and, I think, part of what we need to enter into and stay in relationships. Wanting to tell the truth as you see it isn't a liability, either, or not a terrible one. We're called to speak the truth, and not just to see it and pretend.

You lay out the poles quite well; but we don't need to live at either of the poles, much less swing between them. Remember, too, that everybody you're called to serve is also somewhere on that continuum. Everybody wants to be liked.

So, move too far toward your need to be liked, and you'll find yourself with poor boundaries, running yourself to death, trying to control things you can't, including other people's feelings. Move too far away, and you find yourself inaccessible, finding yourself leading with no followers, and ignoring things to which you should be paying attention, including other people's needs.

I have news. It may be good and it may be bad, but it's all the same news. You'll have to figure out your place on the spectrum, to some extent by trial and (embarassing, sometimes painful) error. The academy is not the place to do that, largely because the official boundaries are all too clear, and this is something that only comes into play where boundaries and roles are matters of constant negotiation. Get and hold honest friends, and ask them how you're doing. Seek some professional emotional backup - whether a mentor, a spiritual director, or a therapist - for the particularly tough stuff. And once you've found someone you trust to ask these questions, believe them! If they call you to account, think how to act differently. If they praise you, say thanks and think how to repeat what you did right. Some environments - CPE, therapy - can push the process somewhat, but a lot of this you'll need to work out as you go along.

And in the process, remember that God is with you. You can't screw things up beyond God's capacity to redeem. You can find that God can use you, including your (embarassing, painful) mistakes to make Christ present, both to you and to those you're called to serve.

Big Ear Creations said...

You know what... I just watched the movie Luther... and your passion sounds like... HMMMM... PASSION. Regardless of some of these points (communion... because I'm not sure if any of us are right yet), you care about what you're doing and actually CARE about your relationship with God. Litergy, docterine, religion are all just MAN MAN MAN and can reek of religion. You just hear God and follow His voice!

Check out my latest Blog entry, you CAN be free and be who God's called you to be without having to conform to "the patterns of this world"

Don't listen to the wind-bag voices in this world!

Jake said...

I want to affirm Marshall's recommendation; develop healthy friendships, and seek some professional help (spiritual director, therapist, or both).

Also, don't dread the mistakes. They happen, and eventually you realize that you are sometimes going to upset someone, regardless of what you do. That's the nature of the game. But I hope that inevitability will not dampen your passion! We need more passion; some of this stuff really matters.

I'm reminded of what one of my mentors used to mutter after a particularly difficult meeting; "The Church would be a wonderful place, if it wasn't for all these damn people!" The man is now a bishop, and deeply loved by the people he serves.

As one who seriously crashed and burned after nine years, let me also assure you that even in the worse case scenarios, God can create a new thing from the fragments of our broken dreams. We believe in redemption.

One last comment; I hope you realize that your passion in your previous post was not necessarily misplaced; the difference between memorialism and anemnesis is huge. One recalls a past event, the other breaks the bonds of time and space and unites all times in this present moment. IMO, the former offers, at best, feelings of nostalgia, while the latter can be transformational. But, that's just my opinion, and to keep from reopening that discussion, let me be the first to acknowledge that I might be wrong!