Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sanctification: The Work We Are Called To Do

Fr. Dale Matson 

“Almighty and ever living God, we thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and for assuring us in these holy mysteries that we are living members of the Body of your Son, and heirs of your eternal kingdom. And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 365).

Over the span of the last twenty years, I have been involved in the selection and professional preparation of individuals in both the secular and church settings. In the secular setting I was involved with training school psychologists and school counselors. In the church setting I am involved with those seeking holy orders, the deacons and priests in the Anglican Church.

During that time I have had an opportunity to participate as a practitioner myself working as a psychologist and school psychologist and as a vocational deacon and priest. I have also been involved in the macro aspects of professional preparation in helping to write the training standards for the Commission on Teacher Credentialing for the State of California.

What remains at the forefront for me is not just what constitutes the necessary requisite attributes and what the added value should be in terms of training outcomes but what happens after the individual has earned the necessary credentialing and entered the profession. A colleague of mine once told me, “What got you here won’t keep you here.”

At the first meeting I attended of the San Joaquin Counselors Association in 1992, I heard table talk that alarmed me. Many of these individuals were burned out after only a few years in the profession as school counselors. How effective could they really be in helping students when their main goal was simply to get through another day of work? Yet, how could someone like Mother Teresa work for years under the most demanding circumstances ministering to the destitute and dying in Calcutta?

It was then that I envisioned a training model for School Psychologists that would have a Wellness component embedded in it. The idea was that the formation process would be intentional in helping candidates learn more about themselves. They would also come to a greater awareness of and need for personal growth in all domains including the spiritual domain. We wanted them to see their work as working for God. The graduate mission statement of Fresno Pacific University claimed that our goal was to advance the Kingdom of God. I believe this focus lends resilience to those who work in the human service professions. It is all too easy to become discouraged, disappointed and even cynical if one hopes to receive encouragement from those who are troubled. Too often, troubled individuals have become adept at defeating help and improvement. As change agents in the schools, we were requiring the candidates to model in their own lives, what they wanted to see in the schools. It was an incarnational model meaning it was Christ like.

I believe that the same thing is true for those seeking holy orders. Seminaries emphasize mastering content. Having a rigid need to submit extra credit to your instructor may make you an excellent student but, will those same personal needs serve you well in the everyday chaos of a school or a church? It does not take long for the professional counselor to realize that the concerned mother who requested counseling for her daughter may be using this service as evidence in a pending divorce case.

What I have been saying is that the treatment for an individual or even a system is personal wellness modeled by the treatment agent herself. That is what produces genuine change. An individual who models personal wellness is contagious. They have healthy emotional boundaries that allow others to connect but not attach. Even touching the hem of the garment of Jesus could heal. But first, the person must be working their own program, for we are all broken from the beginning. And what is that program? It is the process of Sanctification.

Ultimately, the treatment agent is any Christian who listens to God and is willing to take on the assignment that God offers. It is a spiritual niche that will give purpose and meaning to life. As our collect for Morning Prayer states in part, “To know Him is eternal life and to serve Him is perfect freedom.”  This niche may change over time but it is an assignment that can make the sun stand still if necessary. It is an assignment of good works, the works we were called to walk in. Christians have treatment efficacy as they walk and talk and play and laugh……and become whole and holy themselves. This is not just about professionals helping others. It is about Christians as change agents in a world going to Hell.  Amen


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post.

For me, the difficulty can be choosing between my wellness and doing everything I can to serve the people God has given me to serve. I am an attorney who works with indigent people, many of whom are mentally ill, addicted, cognitively impaired, or otherwise disadvantaged. Your observation about people exhibiting symptoms of "burnout" after only a few years of practice is true in my field as well.

Would you be willing to share any book recommendations, for further study/implementation of the ideas in your post?

Thank you - I enjoy reading Soundings.

Dale Matson said...

Dear Anonymous,
I am in the process of writing a book about this very issue of Christian wellness. Part of the problem with those serving others in the human service profession is their own woundedness that they bring to their service. They are attempting to comfort others with the comfort they were comforted with but they are using others to work out their own issues. For example, how many women working in shelters for abused women were abused themselves? Even Christians are broken but the church has supplied a "program" for healing. That is what I am going to write about.