As I read about how the difficulty of finding someone to turn to increases as psychiatrists age, I couldn't help but think about ministers. In seminary we're put into processing groups, encouraged to see therapists, set up with mentors. In the early years of ministry we tend to seek lots of collegial support, from peers and more experienced ministers. With the big emphasis on self-care in ministry these days, I think all of us know that we need to be intentional about seeking space where we can work through our own issues. But then life happens. We get busy. We think we're okay, so we stop talking to people (which of course means that when we're not okay, we're not sure who to turn to). For me, though, I think the biggest factor has been falling into a pattern of always being the helper, and never being the helpee.
I've noticed this lately with my friends around here. I feel like I spend a considerable amount of time listening to them and helping them work through their stuff. This doesn't feel like a burden to me; it is who I am, and it's one of the things that makes me a pastor. Generally I don't really have much that I absolutely NEED to talk about, so we get into a pattern of talking mostly about them. But then there is the odd moment in which I really need someone to talk to, like a few weeks ago when I was seriously questioning my vocation for the first time, or a couple of weeks ago when a personal event threw my emotional state into a complete tailspin. People asked how I was doing, but I barely got two sentences out before they had shifted into talking about their own stuff. I realized as I sat there with tears streaming down my face while one friend rattled blithely on about her week and another completely cut me off when someone else approached her - something is seriously wrong with this picture.
One of the things that might be wrong is some of my choices of friends. I like them to hang out with, but I can't count on them to be there for me. But the other problem is that it becomes increasingly difficult for me, the longer I am the helper, to ask others for help. I've never been good at needing people, and now I am just WAY out of practice.