In thirty-five years as a minister, I did my share of crisis work where I comforted people who were experiencing their worst and sometimes final moments of life. I was a pastor, a hospice chaplain, and even a volunteer ambulance driver. I did funerals, visited the hospitals, and went out to scenes where someone had just died, either slowly or suddenly.
It was rewarding work and after a lot of years I got good at it.
But the work also became more difficult as time went on. I felt the wounds of others more acutely and they accumulated somewhere within me. They’re still there.
In my last year, whenever I visited the hospitals or nursing homes, I’d start shaking before I entered the building. I would become dizzy and my heart would pound. I’d tamp it all down and force myself to go in and comfort the people.
A lot of things contributed to this anxiety, but suffice it to say I simply reached my limit.
It has been nearly four years since I left professional ministry and I still feel like I’m convalescing. The anxiety and grief can come flooding back when triggered at unpredictable moments. A troubled person in the line at my register, a sad drama on TV, or sometimes just my thoughts during a quiet moment will trigger me and I’ll cry and shake like I did during my last year.
On occasion, I still do funerals for those who need a humanist minister. I’m glad I can still be of help this way, but it costs me emotionally, and it takes at least a day to recover. My counselor suggested I allow myself that time instead of trying to ignore it and jump back into my normal schedule.
Maybe it’s okay to be sad about the past.
But is this all I can do from now on? Am I the guy who was once the starting quarterback but is now diminished to where I only play occasionally off the bench?
I can’t look at it like that. I have a whole life to live and it does not include becoming less as I get older. Maybe I’m quieter and less noticeable but I cannot be just… less.
Maybe I’m still in the state of becoming and I’m actually more. Being older, slower, more tender—maybe those are signs of development rather than diminishment.
I think I’ve been expecting to rest enough to where I can reclaim the energy I used to have and then step back into a life as intense as I once led. But I think I’m progressing to the next level of life. I choose to see becoming older and more tender as symptoms of growth and meaning rather than diminishment.
It feels like I’m less but maybe I’m more.