Lately I have been getting a lot of questions and comments from people regarding either how I do, or how I should, handle the emotional weightiness of my job: "Is it hard to leave work behind?" "Do you get sad a lot?" "I don't think I could handle hearing about that stuff ... I would be depressed all of the time." These are the standard comments I get when people inquire about being a counselor in general, but even more specifically about what it's like to work with abuse victims. Usually, I do not know quite how to respond. I have not yet crafted my party line on this topic, so I probably end up giving a different answer to everyone who asks. I'm sure my responses often spring out of my emotions at the particular moment I am asked the question, and are more of a reflection of the day I'm having than they are of my actual heart in the matter.
If you are someone who has asked me one of these types of questions and you feel that you have gotten a flaky answer, chances are good that you are correct. It isn't that I don't want to talk about it, or that I resist being transparent with people; I'm just not sure that I can even answer those questions for myself at this time. I also know that the impact of this job, as of any, is dynamic ... its effects will always be shifting and changing as my other life circumstances (and my own heart) shift and change. In spite of all of this uncertainty, however, here are some of the honest, though perhaps jumbled and incomplete, thoughts and feelings that I have in quiet moments of processing.
First and foremost, I try to keep central in my mind the fact that, as a counselor who follows Jesus, I have a perspective of eternal hope. I believe that this perspective should be functional in my life and not just intellectual. To me, part of what this means is that there should be something functionally different between the way I am affected by my work and the way an individual without eternal hope is affected by this work. I frequently remind myself that God is good. I often don't allow my mind to wander down the treacherous path of, "then how can He let this happen?" I know that it is very appropriate to ask the difficult questions at times; but if I say that I believe the Bible is true, then I think that there are other times when it is more beneficial to just let that Truth wash all over me without trying to figure it out. I am inspired by my friend, Andrea, who is now my co-worker as well. She has been in this particular field a couple years longer than I have, and she reminds herself of Truth with the verse, "cling to what is good," that she has tattooed inside her wrist. There is a time to question and a time to cling.
Another thing that I think lots of people don't think about is the fact that, though it sounds cliche, light actually does shine brighter in the darkness. This is true on so many levels in the arena of working with abuse victims. In the darkness of the violation a child has experienced, the brightness of that child's resilience and joy in wanting to play and love their pets and families is remarkable. In the darkness of a parent's heart being wrecked with guilt and anger by the situation that her family is suddenly forced to deal with, the brightness of that parent's desire to fight for and protect her child is beautiful. In the darkness of a broken system that struggles to help but fails so many, the brightness of individuals who still believe that change is possible is a miracle. In the darkness of a world where we have an enemy who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy (and does so quite effectively), the brightness of victorious Jesus is blinding.
In a recent conversation, a woman said to me, "I'm glad you are doing that job, because I don't even want to hear about those things or know that they happen." I think I know what she meant, and I also think that she is probably faithfully doing what God has called her to do; but something about her comment made me feel a little sad. Not sad that she doesn't want to hear about abuse ... honestly, I think too much of an interest in it is morbid if it isn't necessary to function well where God has placed you. What made me sad was the reminder that many of us avoid darkness because it is lonely, scary, dirty, and inconvenient. When we do this, I think we miss out on some of the abundance of life that Jesus has for us. He is already in the darkness. He came to heal the sick, not the well. If I avoid the darkness because I don't want to bother with it, then I am missing out on the incredible opportunity to see the bright lights of hope that exist within it, and worse, I am missing the chance to watch how Jesus works to transform the darkness into light.
So, is it hard? Yes ... and no. I'm not bored. Some days I go home and I just want to watch t.v. and not talk to anyone. Other days I leave work bursting with energy to learn and discuss, because that day I got to watch someone's weak, flickering ray of hope become stronger. My intense sermon-podcast-listening over the last 10 months has brought to my attention this verse, which I think accurately describes my general feeling: "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing ..." (2 Cor. 6:10). Regardless of where we work or who is in our sphere of influence, I think it is always appropriate to allow ourselves to experience the sorrow of the decay of sin; and I think it is a necessity to choose to rejoice in the fact that God Is Who He Is.
"In Him was life, and that life was the light of men ... The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:4, 14)