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Friday, September 22, 2017

The Anxious Chaplain

CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) stresses the importance of self-care and reflection; two things that I am historically terrible at. All of that to say, working at a "Level 1 Trauma" hospital described as a"17-story, 862-bed facility, ... [with a] 380,000-square-foot (35,000 m2) outpatient center" without the benefit of these healing techniques is ill advised.
These past few weeks have left me feeling invigorated by the work and woefully insufficient to the task. I'm always needed elsewhere. I'm always looking at the clock, and I always leave wishing I had done more... That being said, the anxiety of wanting to do more isn't necessarily unhealthy. The question I must ask myself is this: "Is my anxiety healthy or unhealthy?"
As a chaplain with a specialization in caring for people who struggle with behavioral health issues (don't we all?), my job requires that I stretch my skill set to include a rudimentary understanding of psychology. While my reading has been far from extensive, the works of existential psychologist Dr. Rollo May are easily the most congruent with my theology.
Dr. May suggests that, contrary to popular belief, anxiety need not be unhealthy:
“In neurotic anxiety, the cleavage between expectations and reality is in the form of a contradiction . Expectation and reality cannot be brought together, and since nobody can bear the constant tension of the experience of such a cleavage, the individual engages in a neurotic distortion of reality. Though this distortions is undertaken for the purpose of protecting the individual from neurotic anxiety, in the long run it makes the contradiction between the individual's expectations and reality more rigid and hence sets the stage for greater neurotic anxiety. 
In productive activity, on the other hand, the expectations are not in contradiction to reality, but are used as a means of creatively transforming reality. The cleavage is constantly being resolved by the individual's bringing expectations and reality progressively into greater accord. This, as we have endeavored to show at many points throughout this book, is the sound way to overcome neurotic anxiety. Thus our human power to resolve the conflict between expectation and reality - our creative power - is at the same time our power to transcend neurotic anxiety and to live with normal anxiety.” 
- Rollo May, The Meaning of Anxiety
Now, with this perception of anxiety floating around my head, it's safe to say that what I've expected from myself and the reality of what I have to offer has created a chasm fostering neurotic anxiety. What does my theology say about that?
"Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand." 
Isaiah 41:10
More than any other phrase, the Bible encourages us: "Do not be afraid". I believe that any place where truth is found is a revelation of God, and I have found that the stoic philosophers often expressed truths in line with Christianity:
“He suffers more than necessary, who suffers before it is necessary” 
– Seneca

“Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens” 
– Epictetus 
"Two elements must therefore be rooted out once for all – the fear of future suffering, and the recollection of past suffering; since the latter no longer concerns me, and the former concerns me not yet.”

– Marcus Aurelius

I've got some letting go to do...


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