I was blog-hopping and perusing earlier today, and I found a blog post written by a clergyperson who had been struggling with depression. In the comment thread, I found another member of the clergy admit that they were about to head to the doctor to discuss anxiety and OCD for the first time. This clergyperson was scared and in pain, and used the word b***s*** to describe the illness. Then they said that they never used to use that word before the illness.
My question is: Why not?
Okay, now that may seem like a strange question, coming from someone who is abstaining from harsh (and especially foul) language this Lent. But I remember the first time I heard a priest cuss, and how much it meant to me. You see, when one is ordained (or whatever process is used), one does not cease to become a human being. One does not lose the ability to be angry, or to be startled, or to hurt. One still whacks the bejeebers out of one’s thumb with hammers, and one still finds oneself stuck in unremitting traffic, and one still has all kinds of bad stuff to deal with. So why shouldn’t one cuss?
Now, I’ll admit that a person who is in authority – a potential role model – probably should not indulge in profanity in front of impressionable youngsters. But that same person needs to able to relax and feel comfortable in front of his or her peers. And that person’s congregation needs to be reminded that clergy members are human beings, too – beautiful, unique children of God, who are just as vulnerable and frightened and anxious, and lovable and precious and wonderful, as everyone else.
I remember several years back, when I was looking for a new therapist. I wrote an email to the rector of my parish asking for a recommendation, and one of my criteria was, “I want a therapist who will tell me I’m full of s*** when I’m full of s*** – in those words.” He had exactly the right person for me. It was great.
I’ll admit that I can sometimes have quite a potty mouth. My officemate laughs at me, because I try to refrain from cussing in the workplace. When something goes wrong, I usually explode with a “GOD BLESS IT!” She knows something’s seriously bad if I use the d-word or even the s-word. Now, I don’t think I’ve ever heard her swear in the two years I’ve known her, but maybe she’s just more even-keeled than I am. I’ll admit that there are places and times when a swear word is not appropriate, and that there are places and times when it’s not a big deal.
I think there’s another lesson here (actually, I’m sure there are many) – sometimes an illness, mental or physical, makes us just a little more human. It can open our eyes, and the experience gives us more compassion for others who are struggling with similar issues, issues that we just hadn’t noticed before. We humans are a rather short-sighted, self-centered bunch, in general. We pay attention to the things that help us the most, and we tend to ignore the things that just don’t affect us. So mental illness brought this clergy member to cuss? Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe it will make this person a more sympathetic human to their congregation, to their family, to the other people that they face every day. Maybe not. It’s not for me to say.
But I will say this: what mental illness can do to us is b***s***. It stinks. I have not yet revealed on this blog my particular diagnosis, but I’ll say that I do have one. I will also say this: it has brought me great pain, great struggle, and tremendous growth. I would not wish the pain and the struggle and the hardship and the heartache on anyone. But I also would not trade the growth and the learning for anything. And for that, I am thankful.