Though I’m a firm believer that we cannot fully (and shouldn’t) separate our professional and personal identities, I’d like to explore what it means to be pastor who shares his emotions. The church, like all places, is filled with a gamut of emotions—from divinely ecstatic to deathly remorse, and everything in between. Clergy, like all people, experience all the same emotions in and as a result of what takes place under the name of the church. We, like you, have moments on the mountaintop; and we, like you, find ourselves from time to time walking amidst the darkest nights through the valley of the shadow of death. Perhaps in hearing me share some of how I feel, you might find: A) the church is a place where you don’t have to check your emotional baggage at the door, but are invited to enter regardless how you’re feeling, B) I’ve likely felt (and am possibly currently feeling) many of the same emotions you have experienced, C) self-awareness, openness, and honesty are key in claiming our emotions in a healthy way, and D) in sharing our emotions we can begin to take steps away from judgment toward acceptance and care for one another. So here goes:
I am your emotional pastor. Like you, I too experience both times of great joy and times overwhelming sorrow. When, during a Children’s Sermon, a kid understands what I’m trying to teach and blurts out the answer: “God loves us!” my heart swells five sizes with exceeding happiness. On the other hand, when a parishioner makes a backhanded comment—blaming me for something beyond my control—I feel a wave of shame wash over me, with the residual after effect being anger like bad sunburn. When someone dies—though it may not be as visible in my face—my heart breaks with despair and mourning knowing that that relationship has been severed. Yet, when I am blessed to preside over a baptism—though it may be equally non-visible—I feel like I’m walking on the clouds, overjoyed as I get to help welcome this little one into the family which is Christ’s church. Honestly, there are emotions I experience from my personal life that, though I try to prevent it, bleed over into my professional life. Likewise, though many people probably don’t realize it, there are also many emotions I experience from the professional sphere which have an affect on my personal sphere. It’s been tough both learning and accepting it, but our emotions—despite the measures we go to separate them from all else—cannot be compartmentalized. As the sad adage about the man who comes home, yells at his wife, who yells at the child, who kicks the dog demonstrates, there’s been more than a few times when someone or something will annoy or upset me at work and I’ll inevitably bring that emotion home—unfortunately becoming an added weight on my family’s shoulders. I’ve felt disappointment with people who are careless with what they say, and resentment toward those who appear heartless by their selfish actions. I’ve also felt love toward those who I share a close relationship, and compassion with those who are hurting. There have been times when fear has covered me like a thick wool blanket—leaving me feeling entangled like I cannot move. There have been times when I have felt so confident that the trust (faith) was of no question. In friendships past, I have felt betrayed; and in friendships present, I have felt comforted. I have had my rumbles with unworthiness—sometimes brought on by others externally, and sometimes ignited from within. I have been affirmed to feel valued and cherished. Heck, half of all these emotions I’ve experienced, more or less, just in the last week. I am an emotional person—as we all are, and for better or for worse I am an emotional pastor.
So why do I share this with you, my readers? Not to suggest my emotions exceed someone else’s nor to shove my personal feelings down anyone’s throat, but to claim and share them so as to invite/encourage a safe space for others to do the same. Emotions are neither right nor wrong, but simply how we feel. What we do with them (or the lack thereof) is what can have positive and/or negative consequences. We all feel—whether you realize and accept that is another question. When we deny our emotions or are unaware of what we’re feeling, we run the dangerous risk of it turning into poison—hurting others or ourselves. On the other hand, when we accept and claim our emotions, we become more in tune with ourselves. Self-awareness makes for healthier self-imaging, life-giving relationships, and even shapes how we understand God and trust in God’s love for us in Jesus Christ (for which I believe emotion pays a part). I’ve met pastors who don’t (or at least do their best to not) share a single emotion—coming off as cold, calloused sculptures; and I’ve met other pastors who (whether they know it or not) wear every emotion they experience on their sleeves, without filter—being experienced by many as an unstable molecule threatening to explode. Not judging either extreme—because Lord knows I’ve swayed between both—I want to lift up that as sinful, broken, and fragile as the next person, pastors wrestle with their emotions. We don’t have it all figured out, but we do feel. Though most of us pastors are not licensed psychological professionals, we are called to meet people in their emotions—good, bad, and otherwise—listen and affirm how they’re feeling as we walk with them through life’s journey, and encourage self-awareness and honesty of emotion for the building and nurturing of relationships in Christ. My hope and prayer for you is fourfold. Might you hear my words here as encouragement to pause and consider your own emotions throughout your daily life. Might you consider writing down how you feel before, during, and after different events. Might you try sitting down with someone whom you trust and sharing how you feel about something that’s been weighing on you recently. Might you take your emotions altogether to God in prayer, trusting they will be heard. Whatever you do, know that there is at least one other person out there who is feeling too, and welcomes hearing about your emotions: Your Emotional Pastor.