These are the three most common phrases I say to people during pastoral counseling. I usually hesitate a bit because I never want to make people feel like I'm trying to minimize their feelings, questions, or doubts.
No one wants to be told, "You're not special!" (Just ask the Enneagram Fours in your life.) But no one wants to be told, "Yeah, that's weird," either. The fact of the matter is so many of the questions that my counselees and I face together are entirely normal.
- "I feel like God is punishing me."
- "I'm not sure I believe in hell anymore."
- "I think I'm going to go to hell."
- "I don't feel close to God."
- "I want to study theology."
- "My parents have rejected me."
- "I think I need to cut off my relationship with my parents."
- "The faith I grew up in seems disgusting and gross."
And so on.
And I want you to know, these questions are popping up constantly, everywhere, with so many folks. You're not the first to think that thought, have that doubt, or have that feeling. In fact, people have most likely been having these feelings for centuries. You're in good company. A cloud of witnesses, some might say.
One joy of the past few years has been doing more pastoral counseling. This happened for a few reasons.
- It's nearly all I could do in my first year at The Table. Yes, we did weekly virtual services, and I did the bulk of the preaching. But so much of the "extra" stuff of ministry necessarily had to fall to the wayside. So I set up my permanent Zoom link and made myself available to folks who needed someone to talk to.
- While initially, I did the bulk of the preaching at The Table Church, I now do about one-third. This is by design, as I believe in a polyphony of voices in the pulpit, and it frees me up to do more things as a pastor.
- It's what I want to do now. A younger, less-mature version of myself thought the epitome of ministry would be nothing but preaching and teaching to crowds. But the call of pastoral ministry is towards the care of souls. That requires actually knowing the individuals in your congregation, not merely lecturing them from a stage.
I'm so glad I get to go on these journeys with people. It's where my joy and the world's need meet. I'm grateful for whatever role I can play in helping people feel less alone and more loved by God.