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.