Where is That Coming From?

The phrase “Where is that coming from?” is one I hear a lot these days. I believe the general understanding is that this is a statement made in judgement of another, as if they are the crazy one and the speaker has no idea what prompted their crazy response.

If it is used this way, then it is judgmental – especially if done with an eye roll. But in CPE, “Where is that coming from?” is a legit question that begs an answer – minus the eye roll!

On this journey through residency, we chaplains are challenged to discover and process our feelings. A chaplain’s job is to offer emotional and spiritual support to people in crisis. To do that, we must pay attention to our own feelings. For example, paying attention to the things we feel means we cannot just be irritated by someone, but explore why we are irritated – asking ourselves the question, “where is that coming from?”

Now in our second unit of study, on behavioral science, we are reading a book titled, “Healing the Soul in the Age of the Brain” by Dr. Elio Frattaroli. Frattaroli talks about “Listening to the soul” (that inner voice, I call the Holy Spirit) to become the best version of ourselves. Your soul knows who you are. And your soul also knows the hurt and pain you have experienced and the ways you guard your heart to protect yourself from further injury.

The problem is, sometimes these protections keep us from engaging in relationships or interacting as our true selves. We fear if we acknowledge our feelings, it would be like giving in to the bad feelings and that would be disastrous – like opening a pandora’s box.

The reality is, by keeping our feelings at bay we are allowing those same feelings to rule the rest of our lives. The safest and the healthiest thing is to name those feelings and experience them fully, so they no longer control you.

An example from my personal journey as a chaplain is a recent visit with a patient. As I walked in the room, I sensed her sadness. I reverently acknowledged her sadness, and she immediately shared she had lost her son and two brothers with in the last few weeks and months. I remained silent, listening, as she continued to share other concerns: God’s silence in her life, her own fear of death, and guilt for things she had done. The big elephant in the room was the grief and loss she was experiencing, yet I chose to address the forgiveness. I went to the safe place of a pastor, administering a prayer of forgiveness – rather than to touch her grief. As I processed this visit later with my peers, I wondered to myself, “where is that coming from?”

Upon further self-reflection it became clear, I had not yet grieved the loss of my mom and the one-year anniversary of her death – with not a tear shed by me – was a few days away.  I just could not go there with the patient in that moment. This is how our own un-dealt-with feelings can hinder our ministry. Of course, I trust God to continue the work he has started in each of us – the patient and the chaplain.

The question, “where is that coming from?”  is not only relevant for our own self-reflection. When asked with the right motivation and a sincere heart, it can help someone else, either a patient or a peer, in the process of naming their feeling. CPE is not just about me; it is a group effort. I am one of six resident chaplains in the program.  Processing our feelings as a group is part of the program. I count on my peers to be honest with me and to point out things they see happening in my ministry that I may not see, and vice versa… until we see things differently.

There is great wisdom in the Jewish Talmudic words, “We don’t see things the way they are, we see things the way we are.” This is a truth we need to keep in the forefront of our minds as we engage with each other.

Each of us as our own unique perspective based on our cultures of origin and experiences in life and we celebrate that… mostly. There are times we struggle to “hear” each other or to seek to understand, “where is that coming from?”  Mostly because processing with the group may cause unexpected feelings to surface. Those feelings can cause us to react in a way we might not normally react. And then our reaction can be a trigger for someone else… see how this can go?

The challenge is to offer each other the grace and the space to dig a little deeper and discover the real source of the irritation – so often it has nothing to do with what is in front of us, but has a deeper root, one that needs to surface. This can only happen with deeper self-reflection.

On my journey through this chaplain residency, I am learning to listen to my soul and use what I hear to help myself, my patients, and my peers, to answer the question, “where is that coming from?” It is not an easy journey, and at times painful and awkward. There will be times I side-step a feeling with a patient or push a peer further than they want to go in the moment. But if I continue to self-reflect and be open to the work God is doing in me, I can trust that God will bring me healing along the way that I can use in my chaplaincy work for years to come.

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