My wife and I have been foster parents for two long-haired Chihuahuas for a couple of months. I renamed them, Boyd and Ava, after two outlaws on the TV show, Justified. They have had a storied history in their brief lives and are now on their fourth home, due to no fault of their own.
I am not sure where they will wind up. I like them, but we already have a dog and cat. So, that decision is yet to be made. We sort of inherited our beagle and crazy long haired cat, too. So, I wonder what it would be like to choose a pet for ourselves. Novel idea.
However, these tiny dogs are adorable. But, they are also very, very needy. They believe that humans are here to hold them, pet them, and rub their bellies. And they are experts at getting what they want. They will jump on your lap, paw at our hand, or lick you in the face, until they get the desired response.
I find these cute, little, pesky dogs strangely comforting. No matter what happens, they will still love me. They like a lot of loving, and I usually like giving it to them. It is affirming to pet them and rub their bellies because they love it so much.
Here is where I segue from needy dogs to needy humans. No matter how I do it, it will probably seem demeaning. Sorry.
EGR stands for Extra Grace Required and refers to people who are challenging to work with in a ministry or church setting. Every congregation has some EGRs. Sometimes they are people who just get on your nerves. They are in your face, all the time, demanding something, lost in their own little world. Sometimes they were caustic, confrontational people, who were hard to please.
Sometimes, they are hurting people, just looking for help wherever they can find it. At one point in my pastoring years, I was forever dealing with people who were divorced, or their marriage was on the rocks, At the same time, we had several drug addicts among us. Their lives were full of drama and trauma, and they dragged me through the muck with them.
I remember regularly talking to people after a group meeting on Wednesdays. When they exited my office after 9:00, there would often be other people waiting in line. I remember, hanging on the phone, hearing about their latest crisis when I really needed to be “off the clock.” I remember them hanging out in the family room, long after my wife went to bed.
Churches draw needy people. Some more than others. There was a phase in my ministry when we were quite proud of the fact that needy people, with unresolved issues felt comfortable to associate with us. I skew that way. It is awesome. At least, as long as we are not enabling people in inappropriate ways. We fell into that trap, too.
I know, I sound like I am complaining. Really, just reporting.
I mentioned the needy people in my congregation, but I left out one … me. I needed to be needed. Honestly, I suppose the reason I let some people violate common sense boundaries in having access to me, is because I loved it. I loved being needed. I loved trying to fix people. I loved that our ministry was edgy, reaching out to people on the fringe. It made me feel alive, like I was doing something incredibly important. It was a drug for me. It helped me to redeem aspects of my own story, and also, helped to divert attention from my own personal pain.
Pastors and people in the “caring professions” tend to be that way, needy people who need to be needed by other needy people.
But there is one thing often missing in the life of a pastor (and many other people for that matter,) real relationships.
Relationships where people keep coming to you because they want something are consumeristic. They are shopping for something, and they want you to provide it. They want something fixed, and they want you to fix it. They want someone to listen, and you are expected to be that person. They want someone to take their side, and push that expectation on you. They are one-way relationships. Real relationships go both ways.
You don’t dare be too honest with such people, because they may somehow use it against you.
We all need people with whom we can just be who we are. We need to be able to relax and be honest, and be sure that it will not be used against us. These are real friendships, and they are rare!