Encouragement

It’s funny what power encouragement can have when we let it. At least for me, encouragement has the potential to light a spark that keeps my fire (of faith and of creativity) going for quite a while.

I don’t usually stop and meditate on the topic of encouragement, but Kate Rademacher, author of the memoir Following the Red Bird: First Steps Into a Life of Faith and a member of my church, recently graciously invited me to be the first guest blogger on her new blog, launching a sort of series on the topic of encouragement. You can read that blog post in full here.

I’ve received a lot of encouragement over the years (maybe from you, reader!), perhaps especially in recent years as I’ve grown in confidence studying at intersections of faith and mental health. For that I am grateful.

This past semester I found myself encouraged by professors, peers, and the very process of writing as I wound up eagerly crafting pastoral theology papers for each of my seminary classes, addressing the following:

  • “Belonging in the Body: A Pastoral Theology of Lay Eucharistic Visitation and the Care of Persons with Dementia”
  • “‘Enlarge Our Territory:’ The Spiritual and Social Power of Women’s Prayer Groups”
  • “Permission to Grieve: Reading Psalms Through the Lens of Foster Youth and the Experience of Disenfranchised Grief”
  • “Self-Emptying and Self-Care: Exploring a Kenotic Valuation of Self in Philippians 2:1-13”

This summer, I will be doing a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), a structured program of pastoral care training that’s required for ordination in my denomination and many others. While CPE is all about hospital chaplaincy, I’ll be learning mental health chaplaincy in particular, based primarily at a psychiatric hospital and secondarily at a homeless shelter in order to see a spectrum of mental health needs and care structures (or perhaps lack of care structures at times).

Howard Thurman has been famously quoted as saying: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

To be clear, I’ve long taken some issue with this quotation, especially its first sentence; we should absolutely, I think, ask what the world needs. I could say more on the dynamics of Thurman’s and Frederick Buechner’s oft-quoted quips on vocation, but I’m saving that for another day.

For now I’ll say: the world needs to see God’s presence in spaces of mental illness, and that, my friends, is something that makes me come alive. I’m no hero, no expert, not ordained or licensed yet. But somehow I am alive as I work, study, read, write, listen, and speak on these things.

Encouraged by the Spirit of God, the words of others, and the vitality (and necessity!) of this work, I hope to keep writing on faith and mental health both here on this blog and elsewhere. You might expect reflections on my time in mental health chaplaincy. You might expect reviews of relevant books, songs, movies, or shows (e.g. Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why”). Regardless, I hope you can expect some encouragement.

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One thought on “Encouragement

  1. “You have been created, loved, and called for a purpose to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”

    Julia,

    Early on my mother taught her five children one Sunday school lesson that stuck with me: God loves everyone. I didn’t begin to know what this meant until the day (much later on) that I realized I didn’t.

    So I like the way you ended your article regarding a “life of faith” with the above line. Most of my Christian life was one as seeing these as commandments. But, since when can love be commanded? And in regard to my neighbor, I might be kind and thus feign love for them, to love them as myself is completely another thing.

    But to see these “commandments” not as being obligations, but rather as “how things work,” as demonstrated by Christ, they become encouragements and intriguing matters of faith. (Keep in mind, my faith is in God, not the love I imagine.) So I ask him in various situations, and in all my bluntness, “How so?”

    And every day becomes an eye-opener.

    Like

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