Friday, March 31, 2006


So Wednesday, I met with my pastor over at my Field Ed. Church and we had our weekly check-in. Often these meetings have been driven by my questions - "How did you seek your first call?" "How do you juggle family & ministry?" and the like. But this day, as I drove in, for the life of me I couldn't think of any questions we could talk about. I was a little worried that our time wouldn't be fruitful.

So, I walk in and once we'd said our greetings, my pastor/supervisor turns to me and says "We're going to talk about you today. Tell me what your weaknesses are." And BAM, just like that I was on the "hot seat."

There was no need to ask him any questions because we spent the entire time talking about my weaknesses. The first two were easy - quick temper & procrastination/time mangagement. But despite the fact that I felt like I went into great detail about these issues in my life, he wanted more. So, out I dragged "over-competitive" and what I felt was a slew of generic little things that didn't compare to the first two, issues that I truly felt and feel are my biggest weaknesses.

As we wound down the hour, and has he'd mentioned before, he talked about how knowing yourself is important, especially in ministry. You can't slay the beast you don't know is there. But then he turned to me and rather matter-of-factly said "I think you need to do some more digging, because what you've said is rather generic and I don't think it's at the heart - so keep digging and thinking."

What? Are you kidding? If he wanted, I wouldn've sat there and named every sin I'd committed since Grade 1 (all that I could remember). I don't think I was hiding anything back. I think I know myself fairly well. Now, I should mention that he affirmed that he felt I was "healthy" and had many good skills for ministry... but when he sat there and called me out, I didn't know what to think - I still don't know what to think. Do I not know myself as well as I think? Are there unresolved issues that are sapping me and waiting in the wings to tackle me? I didn't THINK so, but now I'm not sure.

So, I was wondering. If you're reading this and you know me, throw me a bone. Tell me what you think my greatest weaknesses are - don't hold back. If you don't feel comfortable writing it in a reply, send me an e-mail. I'd love to hear your feedback...

Oh yeah, and the pic? The Wooly Mammoth was huge, but it couldn't adapt to the changing climate. It was strong & powerful, but its weakness, it's size and positive elements were its downfall when things changed. I don't want to be a Mammoth!


Anonymous said...

your biggest weakness as I see it is this: you don't e-mail enough pictures of your gorgeous new son to your sister-in-law!

DennisS said...

Don't know you, so can't through you a bone. I went to a different sem, and was ordained in the summer of 2005, serving a small PCUSA church.

I think your pastor is indeed trying to get you to dig deeper. But rather than digging for "labels" of weaknesses, perhaps you are being pushed to discover what events and processes have led to your "weaknesses"?

A "quick temper & procrastination" are symptoms of underlying (more foundational) parts of who you are. I'm not trying to say you are weaker than any other human.

In one of my pastoral electives, I read a book by Alice Miller called "The Drama of the Gifted Child." It's an exploration of why psychoanalysts are drawn into that profession. It took me two days to read the first 9 pages, because I had to stop everything and do some deep thinking of who I am and why I was in seminary.

You see, people needing healing are often drawn to healing professions. Was there something deep inside needing healing? Was there something in my family which needed resolution?

I think your pastor is looking for root causes, not symptoms. Why do you procrastinate? Why do you have a quick temper?

If both of these are present on your life, it makes me wonder if there was something violent in your past. Procrastination is a passive/aggressive type behavior. Combined with a quick temper, it suggests that you want control of things.

You can write me off as a nobody, and/or, you can take some time and explore your past (and consider how these behaviors may not serve you well as a follower of Christ).

I'll share that I did seek therapy to deal with my understanding and reactions to my violent/controlling father. I'm a much better person and pastor because I dealt with an important unresolved issue.

Don said...


I appreciate your comments, and they are very interesting. The fact that you took the time to comment is enough for me not to write you off.

I would wholeheartedly agree that a quick temper & procrastination are symptoms - but of what is the question. I fully recognize the family situation I grew up in - I come from a broken home, a father who was controlling and my mother took me and my sister when we were young to get out of that situation. I recognize the tendencies in myself toward being controlling and it is something that I constantly wrestle with. My wife would say I sometimes go too far the other way. At the same time, my home ended up being plenty loud with plenty of arguments, etc. But the same person that modeled that modeled a great love and dependence on Christ - always a dichotomy.

The truth is, I'm very self-reflective. If anything, I'm self-absorbed. If there's a root in this, I believe it's simply selfishnes. I feel I came to grips with my father and mother years ago. I know who they are, I love them for who they are. Yes, there are things that happened that I wish I could have back, but "un-resolved"? I don't think so. If anything, there's an unresolved issue with fully submitting to Christ. If I'm going to name something THAT's it.

I did my psychological evaluation 2 years ago when I began the process of becoming an Inquirer. He didn't recommend I seek counseling - he actually said I was surprisingly candid and that THAT might get me in trouble in the future, that I should be careful to be so trusting of others.

I say this not to contradict your thoughts, because again, I find them helpful. But my biggest surprise is simply to garner the reaction that a) I'm not truly being "honest" or b) that I haven't thought enough about this.

I'd be curious to know exactly how you became aware that the issue with your father was unresolved - and in what way did you resolve it? Was it a matter of sitting down and talking with him? Was it a matter of simply "forgiving" him? Was it "naming" it?

I'd love to hear more...

DennisS said...

Don, I just began visiting your blog today, and I like what you've done here. It's wonderful that you post very regularly, and I really like that you put a picture with each post.

I'd like to point out that the pastor didn't seem to listen well. I'm going to guess that he had something specific on his mind that he didn't communicate - whether about you, or something else. In regard to this pastor, I wonder if you think he is a very good role model, and the health of his ministry? I ask this because of some of my friends in their seminary ministry contexts.

DennisS said...

About Dad.

My father has always had a quick temper. Mom tells me that on their honeymoon, he took a motel lamp and threw it against a wall in a sudden fit of anger. This side of him didn't show during their courtship.

He was quick to beat the kids (I'm the eldest of 5), and might ask questions later. "Bend over and grab your ankles" was one of the more reasonable responses, as he pulled off his belt. More often it was quickly grabbing the left arm and spanking with his hand. He would use a 2 by 4, and threaten to turn the side with nails sticking out about 2 inches. One time he beat my rear so hard that I had no feeling in one of my legs, and had to hop on the other one to get into the house to my bed.

Dad was the eldest child of 7, and he nearly always got his way. His family was German Catholic, and definitely alcoholic. Dad rarely got drunk, but he had quite an alcoholic disposition.

His control included expecting an accounting for every single penny that Mom spent. Whenever Mom got a job, it didn't last very long, because Dad would say she wasn't keeping up the housework good enough, or wasn't getting his breakfast or supper when he wanted it.

Anyway, you get the picture. My folks divorced after all the kids were out of the house. Supposedly they stayed together for the sake of the kids. I couldn't stand to listen to their arguments, though my siblings usually did, and thus knew what not to do or say in order to avoid a confrontation with Dad.

DennisS said...

More background.

I had generally repressed quite a bit of anger toward Dad. The time I couldn't walk, and couldn't feel my leg - I went to my room with incredible anger (I didn't think I had done anything wrong). I vowed to get bigger and stronger and beat him up some day. (I was in 4th or 5th grade.)

About the time my folks got divorced, about their 25th anniversary, I was putting myself through college, and was starting to get sober (after a couple years of drinking a case of beer for 6 or 7 nights every week).

Anyway, I began to see my father as a pathetic person. He attends worship at least 50 times a year, but nothing seems to sink in longer than a few hours.

I should mention that I got married at 26, and 18 years later, I can say that my wife and I have never gotten into a yelling match (her parents are still together but also argued rather violently). We have three children, and upon leaving seminary (May 2005), they were all teenagers (13, 14, & 15).

I worked for UPS for 14.5 years, and Boeing Commercial Aircraft for 4.5 years before moving the family 800 miles to attend seminary. We cashed in retirement funds to support our family through seminary.

I'm not PCUSA, but am in one of the "Full Communion" agreement churches (RCA, ELCA, UCC). I serve a PCUSA church, but am not the moderator of Session, until I complete a course on Presbyterian Polity (currently taking) and pass the exam.

DennisS said...

Response in Seminary.

In the elective I spoke of earlier, I seriously questioned whether or not I was in seminary at the call of my family (because of need for healing).

At about the same time (final year of seminary), Boeing tried to hire me back, with over $50k a year. That's a job that I liked, of which I was highly trained, and they hardly ever asked me to work overtime. I figured I could volunteer part-time in a church, and finish the last semester through distance courses.

My advisor signed off on this plan, but a couple of other professors got wind of it and called me in to talk. They asked me lots of questions, and said my answers weren't good enough. Basically they would make sure I wouldn't be ordained if I ran from my problems.

I attended at least a dozen sessions with a specialized psychoanalyst, met with the two professors very regularly, and stayed in seminary.

I did not actually approach my father, but I did deal with lots of things regarding him. For one thing, I was afraid to step out and succeed (or fail). For the first several vehicles I purchased, I always got Dad's thoughts on the matter. I was always seeking Dad's approval.

I had dropped the idea of getting even (for physical beatings) with Dad, but hadn't considered the need to forgive.

Dad has always been a workaholic, and still is, even in retirement. I see that tendency in myself, but I am more keenly aware of not making my spouse a work widow, and my children as fatherless.

Our family system is much healthier now that I've worked through the issues that surfaced.

DennisS said...

BTW - I have been a procrastinator most of my life. This was mostly due to perfectionistic tendencies. I usually wasn't affirmed growing up - my folks nearly always found flaws, or pointed out what I should do better.

One of the things I was taught in seminary was being "good enough", rather than perfect. And that has made all the difference.

I didn't set out to write all this, but if you, or your classmates glean something helpful from my life experience - then so be it.

DennisS said...

BTW - counseling wasn't recommended for me at testing upon entry to seminary.

Do you have access to a spiritual advisor to explore the possible power issue - lack of commitment to Christ?

I can see that you have thought deeply about what you posted. Thank you for responding to my original post, and adding much clarity for someone who happened to drop by. I'm impressed with your having resolved issues regarding your parents. I can see I was too quick to say some things in my original post. I'm sorry about that.

And now I've reached my online limit, and must get to bed (midnight here).

I've got you bookmarked, and I always check comments for a couple days after I post something. Otherwise I'll probably just be a lurker a couple times a week.

Don said...

DennisS -

Again, I appreciate your comments and your willingness to be so open & honest. No worries about jumping to conclusions or anything, I wasn't offended and still believe there was some good in your observations.

As for my pastor - I respect him and his ministry. You could have indeed been right about believing there was something under there - or that he'd seen something that I didn't mention, for which I hope to get an idea from him next time we talk.

Some of what you mentioned sounded familiar (controlling father) but the physical abuse was never there and my mom got out early (I was 6)so his influence was minimal after that.

I'm in the middle of a very busy week right now with a major presentation & paper upcoming, but I'll comment more when I get a chance.

Again, I really enjoyed your personal story & insights and look forward to more discussion soon...