Saturday, April 10, 2010

People Fatigue

It's been an unquiet few weeks here in Lake Wobegon.

In the absence of our pastor, we lay ministers have been stepping up our duties, including taking on much of the chaplaincy tasks our pastor normally does himself. Our interim has made himself available for providing Communion and doing the more heavy-lifting assignments, but we're the ones who've been keeping him informed about what's going on with whom, and doing other hospital and shut-in visits.

So far I've done two of these, and found them to be meaningful, un-onerous work -- but probably only because I've had fairly easy visits, one with a family member during another's surgery and one with a member of the congregation I get along with fairly well, who's having some big medical problems right now. The other lay ministers are so much closer geographically to a lot of our regular shut-ins -- and in some cases are related to them -- that I've been a bit out of that loop, but am not complaining.

But meanwhile, Fellow Traveler and I have been ministering to individuals who lie outside the formal boundaries of our churches. One is a woman referred to us by our pastor, whom he met in the course of his first-responder work, prior to his bypass surgery. She is an abused partner engaged in a very nasty custody battle with her former significant other. She is getting excellent assistance in a safe place, but our pastor thought she might need some affirmation and advice from women. So we've been doing that; have been bringing her to church, taking her out for Sunday dinner, helping affirm her good choices and trying to keep up her good spirits -- all the while knowing that there are two sides to every story, and understanding that both parties in this relationship made choices that got them where they are now. FT and I go through alternating waves of satisfaction and exhaustion dealing with this lady; by the time we drop her off Sunday afternoon and head home, we're usually both completely spent for the rest of the day.

And then a high school friend of FT's with whom she reconnected on Facebook -- an individual who had a rough start in life, who went into the Army to escape his home and wound up a disabled veteran whose physical and emotional injuries have impaired his work life and relationships for decades -- tried to commit suicide; that despite FT working hard to get him his veterans' benefits (which he hadn't even filed for until recently) and get him connected to VA help for PTSD. We rushed to the hospital where they'd taken him -- a cross-country adventure across the state -- prayed with him and talked to his spouse. FT used a connection at the VA to get him transferred to a facility with expertise in PTSD, and went to bat for him when the hospital he was in tried to keep him there and charge his wife's insurance for the bill. (This family would never be able to pay the copays for several days in ICU.) We've been tracking our friend's progress this past week, and almost found ourselves on the road again when the VA facility released him without a way to get back home. (He was able to rent a car; and was empowered enough through his therapy to say, "You know, I really want to do this myself.")

I'm pretty much over any savior complex I may have nurtured under the surface. This is tough stuff; and, again, it has sapped much of the energy out of us. FT, who has her own PTSD to contend with, spent most of the day after the hospital drama in bed; I've been feeling unwell in ways that I've been trying to blame on my blood pressure medication but may have some psychosomatic component as well.

This is really hard work. And one of the hardest things is not stepping over boundaries; of remaining objective and dispassionate enough to not be completely overwhelemed by other households' tragedies and traumas. That's something they never taught us much about in lay ministry training, maybe because the goal of that particular program was more modest than the reality of what some of us are doing in our congregations.

We're having another "helping" day tomorrow...but we're having Family Movie Night tonight. Don't be surprised if we don't answer the phone or get on Facebook.


PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

You will appreciate the pastor's job and role more than most lay people ever will. I would think that the emotional overload that a pastor could get into would be exhausting. Then you add to that the complainers and manipulators in every church...well that's a pain in the patooy. My daughter, who is a pastor, has a parishioner who doesn't believe in either women pastors or infant baptism, to name a few things, but who is very outspoken about everything. And then add the recent ruckus over THE VOTE, well, it is tough to be a young pastor.

LutheranChik said...

What I don't understand about the meta-complainers like the woman you mention -- if you don't like women pastors or infant baptism, then what are you doing in the ELCA? It would be like a vegetarian Facebook-fanning Kentucky Fried Chicken. Why?

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

The consensus is that she can get to that church only, because she can't drive. Wouldn't a good Lutheran give her a ride to another church??? [I should point out that we are talking about towns so small that there aren't even any cafes in these towns.]