Heard and Held

Heard and Held
UU Church of the Palouse · November 18, 2018

Audio File:  Click here

Opening Words

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for me, personally.  My husband and I separated after 25 years of marriage, precipitating all kinds of loss and turbulence.  My grandmother caught pneumonia and went on hospice.  We are still waiting to hear.  And then my step-dad died unexpectedly.

Here’s the miracle, though:  I am really, truly okay.

There are several reasons I am okay.  I have a regular spiritual practice.  I have learned so many lessons over the years as I walked with people through loss.  I regularly take advantage of professional support (thank god for my therapist.)  So many of you have been wonderfully kind and compassionate.

But the most important reason?  I have been surrounded by and supported by a group of close friends who check in with me daily.  They listen to me without judging.  They ask clarifying questions and offer tons of empathy…and they don’t try to fix things or give me advice.  Most of them are UU ministers, and this is a big part of what we do for a living!  I am not surprised that when we apply it to one of our own, (ie. me) the quality of care is simply spectacular.

I think everyone who has to go through a tough time deserves a team like mine.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am good at pastoral care, and I love being your minister, but there’s only one of me.  The benefit of having a team is that you can call on the person who you most need to talk to.  Sometimes we intuitively know we need a little tough love.  Sometimes we need soft and warm and sympathetic.  Sometimes we need the person who will make us laugh.  Which is why we in this congregation have trained and will be commissioning a group of fourteen lay pastoral ministers today!

I’m telling you- there’s nothing more healing or more helpful than being heard, and being held, by caring, non-judgmental, wise humans.  I am so grateful to each and every one of our new Lay Pastoral Ministers.  I know from experience that their service will strengthen us, as individuals and as a community.  And I also know, from experience, that they will receive gifts and blessings beyond all measure as they engage in this holy work.


Walking down the street, we see a friend.  They say, “Hi, how are you doing?”  The internal dialog might go something like this:  “My heart is broken.  My life is a mess.  My kids are driving me up the wall.  I am stressed and tired and overwhelmed.” Or worse, “I am failure.  I am unlovable.  I am a horrible person.”

What comes out of our mouth is, “I’m well thanks!  And you?”

We post pictures on social media of the good moments, the happy things.  We present a neat and tidy face to the world, when inside, we are splotchy.  Our psyches are painted with loneliness, frustration, fear, self-doubt, weirdness, flaws, and foibles, all of it so very human!

So here’s what’s real:  normal?  It’s only a setting on the dryer.

That said, no matter how environmentally correct it might be, I’m not a fan of hanging all of my dirty laundry for everyone to see.  I’m more of a drying rack in the laundry room kind of person.  Which is to say, boundaries are important.

But so is having people we trust enough to show our true selves to.  Because as hard as it is to be human, we really do need one another.  Brené Brown writes:

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.

Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.

 Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.

Being vulnerable, showing the truth of our lives, is the work of love.  Being trustworthy, holding those truths with care, compassion, and skill, is the work of love.  And the work of love is what we in this church are all called to do.

So I will level with you.  I wasn’t lying.  I really am okay.  But I’m also sad, shaken, and disoriented.  I think this will go down in my life’s story as one of the bumpiest periods.  I don’t know what to do, so I’m following my own favorite advice and letting things unfold one breath at a time.

And I don’t need or want you to be the ones to take care of me; my role makes that problematic.  But I do want you to know that I am as human as anyone.  I hurt.  I make mistakes.  I fail- sometimes at the most important things in my life.

I also want you to be empowered and supported in taking care of each other.  I want you to know that these good folks are standing by, ready to be with you in all the hard and bumpy places.  And it’s okay- no- it’s more than okay- it’s essential to let them.  Because when being human hurts, and it does hurt, for all of us some of the time, and for some of us all the time, the only thing- the ONLY thing- that makes it bearable is love.

In There Are No Mistakes:  Becoming Comfortable with Life As It Is, Not As It ‘Should’ Be, by Eleanor Wiley with Caroline Pincus, the author writes:

Our culture puts so much pressure on us to be tough and strong. It’s considered bad taste to admit to feeling pain, and it often feels like there’s no room at all for doubts, for feeling hurt and vulnerable. But every life has its share of pain, and people who are comfortable with life as it is know how important it is to be open and honest about their limits and about what hurts or makes them afraid – in effect, to own their pain.

Speaking our truths out loud, we no longer have to be afraid; we’re no longer alone; we don’t have to carry our life’s burdens on our backs. We become joined in community with others who are trying to find their way in this chaotic world.

You see, we don’t have to fix each other, we don’t have to know the right way or path. But by bearing witness we tell each other that our lives are alright just the way they are.

We don’t have to fix each other.  We don’t have to know the right way or path.  Our lives are alright just the way they are.

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