We begin the Healing the Heart Wounds workshop with a discussion about the ways in which ministry can cause hurt. Vocational ministry is one of the most difficult jobs on the planet. As we say at Fresh Hope for Pastors: Ministry is spiritually, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. Demands are high, the days are long, and the dynamics are complex. Pastors bear too many burdens alone, empty themselves out and are swamped by stress. They risk losing hope and joy while facing chronic fatigue and frustration. As a friend of mine says, “People rarely ask me how I am doing. When they inquire, I feel obligated to say that I’m okay. Everyone assumes you’re okay, and your family is okay, because…well, you’re the pastor. It is a weighty, and at times, lonely calling.” Part of our goal with our workshop is to bring people out of the loneliness and provide a safe place to say, “I’m not okay.”
We go beyond this, of course. We provide tools for participants that will lead to improved health and well-being. Before we offer resources, we first establish what a heart wound is. Participants provide some great answers when we explore the question: What is a heart wound? It is an emotional wound. It is a deep hurt that can impact every aspect of life. It’s pain that is hard to get over. Our team views a heart wound as a hurt that is not healed nor scarred over. Certain wounds from the past can be easily reopened. Ministry also involves new trauma that occurs because the sheep have teeth.
Wounds can be inflicted by fellow leaders. I was on staff at a church where spiritual abuse was common. It has taken me years to recover. Much of our suffering is the result of harmful interactions with the people we are entrusted to lead, love, and serve. During the workshop, we contemplate the complicated relationships and complex emotions that take place within this calling. First, we consider why the sheep bite and what marks they’ve left on our figurative flesh.
You can search for a video on YouTube that shows literal sheep attacking their shepherd. It’s funny until it’s not. We enter the lives of people who carry with them a lot of grief, anger, and animosity. We invite them into a spiritual family that may, in both positive and negative terms, remind them of their own family unit or their families of origin. Stuff gets stirred up. Sheep are hungry and thirsty. They can get metaphorically hangry and literally mean. (As someone who appreciates the actual meaning of words, I cannot deal with this recent trend of people saying “literally” when they are clearly speaking in hyperbole, metaphor and simile. Ugh.) Anyway…the dynamics at play when a bunch of sinners are gathered into close quarters…a lot of stuff starts to come out. The pastor is oftentimes the one who steps in and steps in it. People direct their frustrations at us. Maybe because we are parental or authority figures. Maybe because we are public figures. Maybe because we ourselves are flawed and finite creatures who make mistakes that cause consternation and concern. We hurt people.
I’ve been hurt a lot. One of my greatest sensitivities is criticism of my performance. However, I think the thing that bothers me most is being abandoned. And, seeing myself and my church community treated as if we are disposable. This became clear to me because of an art project we do during the workshop.
At the end of our first session, participants draw a significant event or a particular wound. People don’t have to worry about their abilities. I have two artistic daughters, but their skills did not come from me. My drawing would have been humiliating, except we are in an environment where everyone feels safe enough to scrawl their feelings and then share their story with others. It’s beautiful to watch. It’s amazing to get greater insight through pictures that often include stick figures. 🙂 We engage a different part of your brain and delve into a different part of your heart…God uses it.
For me, I finally saw that being ghosted, being ignored, being met with silence while being privately and subversively criticized…that was my wound that has never been fully treated and not yet healed. We’ll help you discover this for yourself…as a result, you’ll witness some of your own wounds begin to heal.