Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Exploring lonely - the empty nest, leadership, mid- and clergy-life

I was sitting with my pastoral counselor one day when she asked.... "Are you lonely?"

I was stunned.  Of course not.  I'm an extrovert.  I am surrounded all day by people.  I interact endlessly.  I draw my energy from those around me. My natural empathic connection means even if I don't know much about the person next to me, I know something about them. Lonely! Ha! As if...


I'm not lonely.

(insert chirping crickets...)

I sat with my reaction to that question in the coming weeks.

What is lonely?

What do I do when I am "alone?"

How am I filling my time when someone doesn't NEED something of me?

Who are my friends?

Not colleagues.
Not the kids who are all testing their wingspan in the real world.
Not my spouse.
Not my mom or my sibs.

Who are my friends?

And it began to sink in.  At 47, I've been super-busy being in relationship with people who need something from me. Who help me feel like I have a place and role and purpose in the world.  Food, clothing, administrative skills, counseling, teaching, leadership, fundraising, management.

But that hasn't left much room for cultivating girlfriends. People with whom I can just kick back and be.  People who will listen to my hard day and just say, "Wow.  That sucks.  You have so much going on.  Red or white?"


Thinking about it, I've spent 23 years in relationship with three beautiful beings, shaping them, helping them stay safe, learn life skills, grow strong.  And they need less and less nurture. And their lives take on greater and greater risk.  And my job is to stand by, cheer them on, process when they want to process, respond to the occasional crisis.  Occasionally provide the funds for life - tangible and emotional.

And I think I've got the hang of marriage - I have a great friend and life partner.  And we can't be the only one bearing the others burden. We can't listen objectively when we might get hurt, be in the wrong, want to "fix" the other's challenges.

And it turns out this clergy work requires a LOT of duty to care.  But it isn't a source of care for me.

And it turns out that emerging as a leader professionally isn't always popular or fun or collegial.

I appreciate my pastoral counselor.  I pay her to listen.  That's ok.


It's lonely.

Yes.  Yes.  I am lonely.

I find myself filling hours pouring over facebook, waiting for responses, waiting for engagement. Checking email.  Work and personal. Because someone might need me.

I see that now.

Lonely, I think, has something to do with learning to be alone.  I suspect it has to do with learning to be comfortable with yourself.  After years and years and years of being present for others.

And when I think about it that way, it seems like an opportunity.  Like -- if I learn to like myself as my own company when I am alone...maybe that isn't lonely.

Here's the thing.  I am aware. Sometimes I am sad.  I am exploring and learning, naming and claiming.  Watching what shows up. Trying not to judge what shows up. Not to judge my feelings.  Because it's ok to be sad. Or lonely.  Or sometimes scared of what comes next.

And I am aware that when I push lonely out of the way, sometimes God shows up differently too.

Clergy boundaries.


1 comment:

  1. Love it! I was lucky to learn, before my children, how to be alone and to enjoy my time with me. Now I'm biding my time waiting to enjoy that time again! Neither do I have girlfriends, maybe I should be nurturing some!