Thursday, January 26, 2017

Competent Humility

I'm just home from the Adoration chapel (my weekly one hour date with Jesus, only I'm usually at least five minutes late, because I call my Mom on the way there, and well, ten minutes is hardly enough time, but leaving sooner proves mostly impossible).  Tonight was one of those nights I didn't need the coffee I drank beforehand to stay awake, because I am in epiphany land.  Land of epiphanies.  When did I write you last?  A couple of weeks ago, I think.  Pretty much since then.

My clinical pastoral education supervisor challenged me to make "claiming my competence" as one of my learning goals.  I was shooting for "positive use of power and authority", which seemed much more clinical and considerably less narcissistic, but I conceded.   I could see that she might be on to something when I couldn't so much as comfortably name one thing I knew I was good at, or why I was good at it, without feeling like a total clown/heel/Oscar award winner.

I quickly accepted I was going to have to recognize the competencies I already possess and name them.  But, I wondered why the idea of it felt so abhorrent?  This might be one.  A long carried belief...

...God highly values the man who out of true humility belittles and forgets himself, judges himself unworthy of all gifts and benefits, does not flaunt them when received, and does not seek the praise of others...                             -Thomas a Kempis

Very aware of the tension between my learning goal to name my pastoral competencies and a life goal of pursuing humility (hopefully with a more lenient deadline than six months), I began to rack my brain, perusing my new books for hints, and trusting that God would resolve the real or perceived conflict between naming my competencies and belittling and forgetting myself!  Goodness me!

In doing so, I came across a chapter entitled, The Caregiver's Life Experience as a Source of Authority.  Aha!  Life experience!  Yes!  I have that.  Good, here we go...

Without reading so much as a paragraph from the chapter, I made a list of all of the things I've endured or overcome in my life (including but not limited to the four things mentioned in my grief timeline from my last post).  Afterward, I was actually feeling a little embarrassingly proud of that list.  Huh!  I had never considered my hardships as bullet points on an emotional availability/proven character/pastoral competency resume of sorts.  Kind of cool to drop this list (pretend it's written on an old tin can) into the empty metal bucket of my self-perception, and hear the loud clank of something in there!

That would have been quite enough self-revelation for a good chunk of time to come, but, it was quite the same thing again (in rapid succession).  While I was sitting there, feeling good about all of the bad/hard things in my life, I realized, "Hey!  That's not all!"  There are a lot of really good things that should be clanking around in that bucket, too!  Fourteen years of marriage, twelve years of motherhood, seven years of working in the clinical setting between the medical and spiritual side, three units of clinical pastoral education, and a partridge in a pear tree!

Ha!  Hoo and Ray!  

Feeling instantly more competent in pastoral care than ever before, I thanked God for the mercifully brief period of revelation, all of the experiences in said revelation, and returned to the conundrum of forgetting myself while thinking about myself inordinately.

Providentially, I found this little gem of a daily morning offering, a few days old, in my inbox from

"There was much in the Magdalen that she had never used, perhaps never dreamed of, until she came to our Lord. He revealed to her the secret of true self-development, which is another word for sanctity. And she found under His guidance that everything in her had henceforth to be used, and used in a fuller and richer way than she had ever imagined possible. It was in no narrow school of self-limitation, in no morbid school of false asceticism, that this poor sinner was educated in the principles of sanctity, but in the large and merciful school of Him who has been ever since the hope of the hopeless, the friend of publicans and sinners; who knows full well that what men need is not to crush and kill their powers, but to find their true use and to use them; that holiness is not the emptying of life, but the filling; that despair has wrapped its dark cloud around many a soul because it found itself in possession of powers that it abused and could not destroy and did not know how to use. Christ taught them the great and inspiriting doctrine 'I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.'"
— Fr. Basil W. Maturin, p. 40

I felt extremely humbled at the thought of being so needy, so well-known, and so hand-fed.  Exactly what I needed.  There was only one thing I still needed to know.

Where do the corners of Magdalen's true self-development and Thomas a Kempis' humility intersect?

Back in the chapel, I asked the Lord this question, in so many words.  Can you show me what being competent and humble at the same time looks like?

He did.

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