When It's About Me, It's About Me
When we were students in seminary, and priesthood was on the other side of the chasm of training and discernment, it was the practice that our first summer of the three year program would be devoted to training in pastoral care. That practice was, and still is, a 10 week immersion experience called "Clinical Pastoral Education," or "CPE." CPE, with that first word, clinical, sounds much more antiseptic than it really was. Under the supervision of a trained leader, CPE students function in their setting (usually a hospital, mental care facility or prison environment) as full-fledged chaplains offering care to the people who find themselves as patients or inmates in those institutions. Supervision is the key to this program. Very few people are born pastors, if you will, and the skills needed to support someone going through hard times are not really natural, so to speak.
You see, each of us possesses something, a unique perspective on the world. Most interactions with other people, sentient beings, even inanimate objects center on us bringing our self into contact and relationship with that other...but for the most part life remains "about us." Being there for someone in a pastoral setting means a willing and mindful intent to make the encounter about "them." Easier said than done, particularly when we as human beings are sitting with someone who is in pain or in the grip of strong emotions. Most of our supervision work centered on learning how to 1) make the encounter about the other person in the most generous way possible without completely losing ourselves in that person and 2) knowing, seeing and sharing appropriately our own self with the other in such a way as to still make it about them in the end.
Right about now you are wondering....is ten weeks enough time to learn all that and make it stick?
No. That ten weeks gets you started...but the lessons are ones that need to be learned over and over again throughout life and ministry. Eventually, you get "better" at making the other person the center, but life is fickle and there are always moments that surprise us, shocking us into new reveries on how someone else's suffering is really like....could possibly be....about us instead of them.
Job's responses to his "friends" holds up just how much damage and conflict can arise when we forget that someone's suffering is not transferable...and that suffering is a unique and precious thing. No one knows Job's insides more than Job-and God-and yet Job is being continually subjected to the critique of his companions...and today...to a companion who sees in Job's troubles a way to exhibit his own stuff, and to draw Job's attention to his agenda: "Job, get over it....it's not about YOU!"
But here's the thing...it IS about Job. His suffering is why we are here in this moment. It is all about him, and if we are willing to sit with him and bear witness to that then we might be able to open up a space for him to articulate his pain and struggle without the chapters of indictment and recrimination his friends are visiting on him.
The scary thing about that truth is that if we do let that happen...if we do allow Job to articulate and name his pain, then we have to acknowledge that there is no justification for it. He is blameless, and yet God has allowed his affliction. He is not being afflicted because he has sinned. He is not bereft because he is wicked.
If the righteous suffer like this, then how can God be good?
That is a scary thought...so much so that his three friends will expend enormous amounts fo energy to convict Job otherwise....
Sadly, by trying to make that suffering his fault, they wrest the center of his experience from him...and make it more about their fear, pain and struggles.
I can't help thinking that my CPE field supervisor would have had a field day with those three....