Please note: I do not struggle with keeping things confidential. I’m good at withholding information and, when needed, tiptoeing around the topics at hand so people aren’t sure what it is that I know. There have been times that persons who have shared difficult parts of their lives with me have ASSUMED that I went home and told my wife everything. This has led to a couple of awkward conversations where the other party talked with my wife as if she already knew whatever it was that was confidential. But I don’t tell her anything I haven’t been given permission to tell her. And, frankly, sometimes it’s easier just not knowing.
I know that confidentiality is important to protect folks. It’s important to maintain a level of trust so that folks feel comfortable coming to me with their struggles and hurts and celebrations.
However, what I find burdensome is knowing so many things about persons lives…their issues with their parents, their health, their marriages, their jobs and kids. I’ve been around long enough that I’ve seen a lot and shared a lot with persons. I don’t think it’s a matter of treating them differently. I think it’s a matter of me trying to share in their burdens. I hurt because they hurt. I really do. Sometimes my heart just breaks for persons I care about as pastor and I then need to carry that burden, confidentially, with little chance fo me to unload my burden anywhere in the local community.
I appreciate the intimacy I get to have with folk. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to be “an island” and remove myself from those times. I have found the dark, lonely, hurting places I’ve been with persons to be very holy times, filled with God and affirming my calling in ministry. I have often said that, at death scenes in particular, I feel most pastoral. Maybe that’s because I feel God most at work and me most relying upon God. I don’t know.
I just know I need to share, too and I try to do that in such a way that my own baggage is revealed and not the baggage of the person I’ve been in dialogue with. I thank God for those places in my life where I’ve had persons ready to help me bear the load.
Empathy can be a difficult thing when the sadness or pain of those around you is carried by you. It was John Shirley who said, “I am cursed with empathy.” There are days I resonate with that and I need to take care of myself.