Thursday, January 27, 2011
Retirement: Leaving a Career, Listening to Stories, Following a Calling
I'm eighteen hours into retirement. So far, so good. I have been in the counseling field, whether clinically or pastorally, for a long time. It's been a wild ride. I have seen and heard more than I ever dreamed or dreaded.
There was Billy* who abused any obtainable substance--a huffer-- and showed up for our session with spray-paint all around his mouth and nose, assuring me he was clean.
There was Carl and Nancy whose lack of hygiene was unspeakable. I felt guilty but each time they left a session I would wipe down the furniture and spray air freshener in the room and hallway so the next client would be able to tolerate the atmosphere.
There was Jill. As we were talking I offhandedly told her she was special and continued talking, only to notice she had broken down and was weeping. My first impulse was to think I had possibly offended or hurt her. She assured me that wasn't the case. Rather, "No one has ever told me I'm special." She was decades into her adult life and no one had ever said something like that to her. No one. How can that be?
There was James. A pastor who found himself in a deep, dark place. Suicidal. A pastor--a messenger of hope, agonizing to find hope.
There was the cop, responsible for enforcing law and order, whose own life and marriage was total chaos, and insisted that his word was the law in their house. Sir, you can be right--or--you can be married.
There was Emma who had been financially exploited and manipulated by another therapist in the community and now didn't know who she could trust anymore.
There was George who swore he'd been framed, that he would never violate a child. Pleading with me to believe him because so few others were. Assuring me of his moral integrity and that he would never do something so reprehensible. In tears, telling me how scared he was and that this couldn't be happening. I believed him. I stood by him. And then it was brought to light that the charges were true, and, in fact, he had committed prior acts with others. George will likely die of old-age in prison--claiming his innocence.
Ed and Karen. Married. Two kids. Ed loved his kids, but had a special bond with his son, Brad. They were tight. Curious as to why a car was running in their attached garage, Ed discovered the lifeless body of his son in the frontseat, a hose running from the car's exhaust to the driver's window. Ed and Karen and I talked for a long, long time over the course of many, many months seeking consolation and healing and a reason for themselves to continue living.
There was Mary, in her 60's, maybe 70's. Childhood wounds still afflicting her. As a little girl, she had never been allowed to play. Always had to be responsible. Wanted her mom to read her nursery rhymes before bedtime but that was "childish" and mom was "too busy." There was something about that, in particular, that she missed so much. We talked about the inherent worth of that little girl, the God-given value of that inner child. On rare occasions, therapy is simple. At the end of one of our sessions I reminded her of the reality and presence of "the little girl" within her presently and I asked her what prevented her from reading nursery rhymes now. "Well, nothing, I guess." She went to the library and brought home several collections of nursery rhymes. At night she began reading her nursery rhymes and took absolute delight in them. Once upon a time. . .
There was Mallory who had been sexually abused when a little girl. She had never told anyone of the demonic horrors, and, instead had stuffed it all her life. Out of sight, out of mind, so she thought. Unwittingly, she was living a life of flight, a life of reaction. After her painstaking efforts to face the shame that was strangling her she began to trust me and she disclosed details of what had been done to her. She was violated in ways that in moments of my hottest rage and desire for revenge against an enemy I have never schemed. To this day I cannot speak of her abuse without losing my composure.
There was Bernard whose job required him to be on the road a lot. So self-conscious, insecure and ashamed of himself that when driving down the Interstate if he caught the look of another passing driver he would quickly turn away, in an effort to avoid the feared scorn and disdain of another human being.
There was Jason, a husband and loving father. He wept as he disclosed to me secrets never before told. Secrets of his addiction, an addiction neither his wife or kids know about, an addiction that, if he does not address, will rob him of everyone he loves. And he'll be left with just another one-night stand.
There was Becky, who had grown up in a rigid, authoritarian religious subculture and had been shamed into living a life of rules-keeping, but no relationship. She came to me with her questions, her doubt, her desperate longing for meaning. Somewhere and somehow in the counseling process she encountered Christ's love and mercy and experienced the love of God in an unparalleled way, and I didn't even know it til after the fact.
There have been hundreds and hundreds of other men and women who have trusted me with their stories. We have laughed at the hilarious and wept over the tragic. Holding hands, agony and ecstasy have walked into my office hoping for understanding. Confusion has entered, desperate for direction. Heartache has cried herself into my presence, quietly pleading for comfort. Buried in shame, many have come in hopes that maybe this time they won't be rejected. Many have come, no longer believing in God yet desperate for God.
I do not know what good I've done or been. Two things I do know. The stories have broken me and blessed me. And it has been my privilege to serve in this capacity wherein so many have trusted me with their lives, their sin, their pain, their dreams and hopes. A privilege to serve in my faltering way as a mirror of God's grace and mercy.
And now my own story is opening a new chapter. So far, so good.
* (all names and identifying details have been changed or omitted in order to protect the privacy and confidentiality of all individuals.)