CPE & The Problem With Clinical Distance

A few years ago, a spot appeared on my right foot. It would bleed, just a little bit, leaving spots on my socks. Over time, it got worse. No amount of bandaids and neosporin led it to heal, and after a few weeks, it actually seemed to be growing. It bled more, but it also turned into a little mound, a lump. Thinking it was either cancer or stigmata, I decided to go to the doctor. I made an appointment at the student health center of my college and showed up expecting a full diagnosis and prescription for treatment. Instead, the intern who examined my foot sat six feet away from me, on the other side of the room, squinting at my foot through her thick glasses. After a moment, I asked if she wanted to see it closer-up. She ignored my question and simply said, “Well, it looks like a wart, but warts don’t bleed.”

That was it. No ideas on what it was, where it came from , or how to care for it. All that medical training sure went a long way.

What went wrong? She wouldn’t get close enough to see my wound. As I’ve gone through CPE this summer, I’ve realized how important it is to get close to people emotionally and spiritually to effectively minister to their wounds. The professors at my seminary who taught my pastoral care class talked about how empathy and compassion are impossible for anyone but Christ. I do believe this is true, but I’ve discovered that I honestly use it as a cop-out to avoid truly getting close to people in my life. I’ve long savored the depiction of God given in Psalm 139 as the only One who knows everything about me, but I’m learning that this image of God was never meant to prevent us from experiencing intimacy with other people as well. My biggest struggle with CPE this summer, and in turn where I am growing the most through the program, is that it’s making me less afraid to get close to other people’s pain, and in turn I’m growing less afraid to show other people my pain. It’s interesting that what I’ve talked about here more in terms of ministry and mission is really teaching me about authenticity and how genuine ministry and mission can’t be done without authenticity.

In the end my foot ended up being ok. I went to a podiatrist who, after a much more careful analysis, said “Well, I don’t know what that is, but I can cut it out of there for you, if you’d like.” Trusting her expertise this time, I agreed. The mini-surgery took place that day, in a couple weeks my foot was healed, and I’ve never had a similar problem since then. I never found out what the source of the bleeding spot was and I never knew what to make of it until now. Surely ministry is both more effective and more rewarding when you’re next to someone instead of squinting at them from across the room.

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