In my experience, one of the most difficult things for people to understand is why making calls (shut-in, prison, hospital, etc) are so difficult for someone suffering from depression and/or anxiety.
Why should it be hard? It’s one on one. They’re happy to see you (generally). It doesn’t usually take more than half an hour. For what most people see, this should be one of the things the depressed pastor should be able to handle.
Here is why it’s one of the hardest:
- It is one on one focused conversation. This requires energy. Often they are in pain, or lonely, or depressed themselves. That makes it so that these visits are high energy right off the bat.
- Because of this, they are profoundly draining. For myself, one shut-in call wipes me out for half a day. A visit to a prison takes about two days to recover from, and hospitals are in between. Mileage may vary on this, but that has been my consistent experience on the post-disability side of depression.
- Pastors often serve as the sole source of information in regular calls. This isn’t part of being a pastor, but it is often the sad reality. Many shutins have very few visitors. So they want news, gossip, talk about the weather, their family, your family, everyone else’s family at church that they know. This, too, can be draining.
- Because many people are sad, lonely or depressed, it hits the pastor where he lives. For myself, I am much more sympathetic to people’s trials and lives than I used to be. So when I hear of the sorrows of my flock, it hurts me. I’m not saying this because I don’t want to know. I do want to know. But being a pastor, caring for your sheep, is deeply personal and emotionally painful.
That’s why these calls are so hard. But there is good news. The good news is that it does slowly get better as you recover (see your doctor, take your medicine, find a good therapist, go to your confessor). The good news is that it is not about you, but about Christ and the medicine He brings. Some of the secondary things may not go as quickly as you wish. Don’t worry about it. Christ will take care of them, and He will use you as you are able, not as you want. Your suffering is for them as much as it is for you.
Also the good news is that you can ask for help. Tell your parish what is going on. Get your elders to visit. Get a tape program going so that others see them. Anything you can do to increase parish contact will make your own visits easier, because less of the burden will be on you.
Finally, you can only do what you can do. If you can’t see someone, you can’t. It’s that simple. This is good news. Don’t beat yourself up over things which you have no control over.
Anyway, pray for me as I try to make calls. You are all in my prayers along the journey as well.
5 thoughts on “Making Calls”
You are correct about getting the elders and others in the congregation involved.
However, in the three congregations I have served over the past 12 years the reality is that the pastor still remains the only tie to the congregation. The boards of elders I have been involved with were only interested in congregation numbers and budget numbers. They didn’t give a rodent’s buttocks about the sheep or hurting souls.
“…most difficult things for people to understand….” That is the key. Those who do not suffer as we do, ministering with depression, cannot understand. This is a great struggle for me. I’m not sure why it is such a big thing for me, but I desperatley want to be understood by my wife, family and those in the church I pastor. However, I agree, doing visitation is draining. I do find, though, if I can make myself do it I usually end up feeling a bit better.
To be understood! I can relate to that instead of saying “why don’t you pick yourself up etc etc blah blah blah”.
The problem is that outside you look normal and so people forget that you are struggling inside but inside you are not well with yourself and with what is going on inside you. So they treat you as if you are normal since they see you ok physically.
I think spouses should get some coaching on how to cope and sometimes help their husbands going through depression.
BTW when I was pastoring I also dread the thought of visiting my people in hospital. It is after the visit that it hits you.
A friend of mine who was a chaplain in a children’s hospital for 10 years got diagnosed with PTSD – post trauma stress. He saw kids dying each week for those 10 years. Now he is mentally unstable too and struggling with depression himself.
I think pastors need to learn how to protect their own mental health too as a wounded man himself, he often helps the wounded too.