Help when you need it

A few weeks ago, I taught a United Methodist young adult seminarians network workshop. And, for some reason, the thing that kept bubbling up for me as we talked was the urge to tell them to get help if when they need it.

I’m in my mid-thirties, and so are a lot of my friends. And what I’m finding in our lives right now is that we need help. Like, psychological or addiction recovery help. Treatment for depression or anxiety. We need counseling for our marriages. Stuff like that. It’s like the car needs its thirty-five year checkup, and it’s not working for us to look under our own hoods any longer. We need an expert.

The other thing that I’m seeing is that the people who don’t reach out for help aren’t really making it. But those who do, are flourishing.

Is this normal for middle age?

The problem comes in when the person’s a pastor. It’s hard to get help when you’re supposed to have it all together.

When I first sought out a therapist, I was a pastor in rural Louisiana, and I would drive three hours to talk to someone in the “big city” of Baton Rouge. I’ve known clergy who never got help from their addictions because they were afraid to go to an AA group. They suspected that it wasn’t really anonymous, they worried that they would run into someone that they knew, and so they never got the support they needed.

Anyways, as I looked around the room at the 20-something seminarians, that was what I kept thinking about.

On the other hand, the YAS’s were more worried about what parishioners would think about them if they drank. I guess according to the Book of Discipline, a pastor’s not supposed to. (Did I understand this correctly?) My experience has been the opposite. In my career, it would have been much more uncomfortable for me if I didn’t drink.

When I was working in a car dealership, I was always told that car salespeople and pastors had the highest rate of alcoholism. After extensive google research, I haven’t found any verification of the urban myth. But like so many myths, I bet there’s a hint of truth to it.  

The photo’s by emurray


17 thoughts on “Help when you need it

  1. I talk about my therapist and make sure people know that I place a high value on mental/emotional health. I’m hoping to break some of the stigma and also pastor-stereotypes. I also go to a therapist in downtown of our small city, and I refer people to her sometimes too. You would not believe the number of people who have said things like “I am so glad you model this for us–it shows me that you aren’t using us to be healthy and reminds us of the good things we should be doing for ourselves.” I think that’s true.

    I hope that new seminarians realize relatively quickly that they won’t be able to go it alone–we preach about living in community but it’s hard if you don’t have any community support for yourself!

  2. In my early thirties, before going to seminary, I served on the Church and Ministry Committee for my Association (like your COM). When pastors came to us in trouble, they inevitably said, “I was so isolated!” I wish more denominations insisted on cohort or support groups. We all need a safe place to talk about things and friends/colleagues close enough to be straightforward with us when we need a different level of professional help and can’t admit it to ourselves.

  3. Really? In the Rules of Discipline? I don’t recall that from my polity class. That might put the kibosh on my continuing to brew my own beer.

    Perhaps if I formally declared a scruple.

    What seems most horribly wrong about this is the idea that somehow our own congregations aren’t a place we pastors can turn to as a first line of care and support when we’re in spiritual or personal need. Here we are, purportedly surrounded by the Beloved Community pretty much every single day…and it isn’t there for us?

    It strikes me as off, somehow.

  4. Yes, the Methodist Book of Discipline does say that Methodist pastor’s should refrain from drinking, although it does say everything in moderation. My mother, a Methodist pastor, never drinks in public in her small community and when my parents and their friends invested in a coffee shop that started serving wine at night, my mother had to take her name off the investment because of the community uproar over a Methodist pastor endorsing alcohol sales.

    My spouse and I agreed before we got married that for our 7 year anniversary we are giving each other couples therapy. My spouse and I, both young adults, also talk openly in our churches about being in therapy/spiritual direction and I don’t know a single one of my young adult pastor friends not in therapy of some sort.
    I hope the stigma around therapy for clergy is changing. I hope people talk about it more and that people feel comfortable seeking the help they need.

  5. My spouse is a Methodist clergy; I’m not (so take this info for what it’s worth). It’s my understanding that they can drink, just not in public…so as not to cause a brother/sister to stumble. Which makes sense, but also sounds like a recipe for disaster: only drink when you are alone.

  6. esperanza, ooo. You’re right.

    Neil, that is an amazing story. The part that hit me was when he was afraid that his admitting it would give people one more excuse not to be a Christian. So poignant. It’s not always pride that keeps us from getting the support we need…. I’m glad he found his way out.

  7. I see a therapist, psychiatrist, go to AA and talk to my pastors. But it took me 20 years to break down and do it- and tell everyone about it. My grandmother just told me she’s been on psych meds for 50 years and never told anyone. Wow. that’s a long time to keep a secret.

  8. You know, as I’m thinking about this, I wonder if there’s some sort of balance here. I guess I’m just working this out as I write….

    On the one hand, I want the church to be a loving community, one that knows how to reach out and care for one another, including the pastor.

    But on the other hand, when I am walking through difficulties in my life, I usually don’t seek out help from my congregation. And the support that I get is usually from communal worship.

    Why is that?

    Well… congregations can be messy, and sometimes there are one or two people in a church who would like it if someone else was in the pulpit. I mean, someone other than me. Or (in the case of a multiple staff church), one or two people wish that my particular job didn’t exist.

    In an ideal world, a church would call a pastor and love and support him or her throughout the years. But, in most of our churches, there are one or two people who would use the discovery of a mental illness, or an addiction, or even a bout of depression against us. And even though we live in an Oprah age, we still need to be realistic about that.

    Also… I don’t know… I’m a pretty private person. I will write and preach about things after I’ve worked through them. But when I’m in the middle of a difficult time and I share it with the congregation, I’m letting 300 people in. Three hundred people with opinions and advice about how I ought to be living my life. And that’s way more people than I’m comfortable with.

    I have good friends. Three or four good friends who I usually talk to instead.

  9. I love this post. I wrestle with to drink or not to drink. I think the Spirit anoints some folks to minister in the pub/bar/booze world. I hope the church can see the need to change the paradigm that they are ministered to and for. Pastors are not prefect they are human. Transformation, growth, faith all these things begin in an honest assessment of where, what, and how we are to be and are called to be.
    We are a broken people. When will we receive the Spirit absent of all the BS and regulations we construct. Is God is love enough? If not then why not?

  10. I’ve been having this discussion with my friends since I’ve been in my 30’s. To me middle age is somewhere in the middle of your life span. To most of my friends, it is when THEY think they are in middled age, which appears to be about 55 or so. Interesting.

  11. Ahhh, middle age.

    Several years ago, when I was 51, I left a particular congregation and a woman just a little older than I came to me and said “I want yo thank you for showing me what a middle aged woman of faith looks like.”

    My first reaction was to be appalled and insist that I was not – am not– middle aged. But I knew the woman well and knew she meant her remark as a whole hearted compliment. Then I thought a minute. Did I really think I’ll live to be 102? Welcome to mid-life, baby!

  12. Luke 7:33-34.

    Christ tells us that there were those who rejected John The Baptist because he did not drink wine, and that there were those who rejected him because he did drink wine. So basically which ever decision you make, whether to drink or not, there are going to be those that have a problem with it.

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