This is not a new survey. It’s been 3 1/2 years since I completed a survey of Unificationist Sunday Services as they are experienced by various members around the world. It was my first research project. I was inspired by the qualitative research of Brene Brown (The Power of Vulnerability), and dealing with a lagging interest in attending a service 90 minutes from home. I was also frustrated that my experience and that of my husband wasn’t part of the conversation. I wanted to find out what others had to say.
Engrossed thoroughly as I was in reading the responses as they came in, the work pulled me through a tough winter in Belgium, and helped me tap into a passion I’ve had all my life: giving voice to the silent or the unheard. Grassroots stories from the field always catch my interest. All told, I logged in over 600 hours, spanning a period of 3 months. The people who responded had something to say and were glad to be asked.
The finished survey was sent out to everyone who had participated, and then published on the Applied Unificationism blog, but that was as far as it went. This week, I went back for the first time, and realized it might be time to make the website public. For anyone out there who’s interested or involved in similar research, I hope it is edifying and finds fertile soil in your garden as well.
I’ve been standing on the outside looking in for too long now. Being unemployed has it’s advantages, and I’ve been appreciating them more lately, but I’m ready for training, and learning something new. I want to have a mentor, be part of a team involved in meaningful service work. I’ve been teaching communication skills for many years, and yet I still have so much trouble knowing how to deal with people who have a different point of view, and an emotional investment in maintaining it at all costs. I want to learn more about conflict resolution, and how to bring it about so I can help my family, which is experiencing great emotional conflict. So, I’m inspired by the field of ‘appreciative inquiry,’ and pastoral counseling education.
I also believe that having a strong interest is enough. I mean, why not give people a chance if they are motivated, and want to learn. In Korea, many students weren’t able to take the major they were most interested in because they didn’t test high enough for it. People were taking courses they weren’t interested in. There’s nothing worse than to see a student studying something he or she is entirely uninterested in.
Motivation is such an important factor in the learning process. More so than qualification. As a teacher, I had to first motivate students before teaching them anything. And although some of them were already proficient in English, those students weren’t necessarily the ones who did the best or got the highest grades. The motivated students, even those with poor communication skills to start, sometimes went whizzing past the smart-alecs in the class who already thought they knew everything.
I’m motivated, so I think I’m a good candidate for this CPE internship (Clinical Pastoral Education). I’m telling myself this on the eve of an interview. I’m strongly motivated to be in this field of spirituality, where every day we enter the world of emotions, the world of pain and suffering, the world of death and dying, loss and grief. These are things that society does not teach us how to deal with. Young people think they have forever, but when you get older, you’ve seen so much more, and you’ve started to question everything again, and you know you don’t have that much time to learn.
When I first met the supervisor on the phone, he told me he’s interested in the theology of suffering. I had to think: What does he mean? Why do we suffer? What is it?
The first thought is that we learn when we suffer. We tend to try to avoid suffering at any cost. Who wants to sign up for something that they know is going to be painful. Of course, we sign up for sports teams or yoga classes and burn those muscles and hold those postures til they hurt, but painful relationships are different. There’s no guarantee that it’s going to work out. However, when we have to stretch ourselves, go outside our comfort zone, and feel the pain a difficult relationship can cause, often these are the most memorable and growth-producing times of our lives. The people that I have the hardest time with at the beginning often turn out to be the most endearing, lasting, and real connections in the end. They make you struggle. You have to go deeper into your heart to embrace them, to accept them, not to shout at them, or judge them, not to walk away from them. These are valuable people. They make you leave the surface life and enter into the uncomfortable world of uncertainty and difficult emotions, and the struggle ends up being about you, not them. You face yourself and grow. In my classrooms, the most challenging student often ended up being my favorite by the end of the semesters~ or at least the most memorable. It happened a lot. I had to work hard to figure out how to respond. I was forced to change in some way, and it was usually for the better.
When someone willingly carries a burden for you, suffers for you, or makes a sacrifice on your behalf, it softens your heart. You don’t always know when someone is sacrificing for you. But when you do, it often changes the way you see things and the way you behave.
I had an experience with a student one year in Korea. It was after the semester was over. He came up to me, and told me he had dropped out of the class after just a few weeks. I went back and looked at his record. And I said, “Oh my God! Why did you drop out? You could have passed. You were OK. What was it?”
He said, “I didn’t think I could do it. I wasn’t as good as the other students.”
“Did you ever come and talk to me?”
Telling the story makes me want to cry. I wanted to help him, I was right there ready to help him. It wasn’t like I knew him from the rest, but I wanted each of my students to succeed.
It made me think about how God must feel towards us. If we never ask for help, we can’t receive it. I realized that if the kids don’t tell me what’s going on, I never know.
I told that student, “Your teachers are there, but they can’t read your mind. They’re waiting for you to do your part. You have to take the steps. If it’s hard for you, you have to go talk to your teacher, you have to tell them, ‘I’m afraid’ or ‘I’m not able.’ I would have told you, ‘You’re doing great!’ and I would have helped and encouraged you, taken you under my wing and seen you through. All you had to do was come and ask, and accept the help.”
The universe is waiting for us. All we need is to take that tiny first step, like going up to the teacher after class, and saying, “Listen. I want to do this. But I can’t.”
And the Universe will respond just like a good teacher: “What do you mean, you can’t? Of course you can. You’re my baby. I love you. You’re doing great. You’re doing just amazingly great! The fact that you came to see me, you just won thousands of points over all those students who don’t. So hang in there. You can come to me every day, or every week, whenever you want. I’m here. And I’ll be here. I’m never ever gonna not be here.”
That experience made me realize how precious teaching is. You get to experience a little bit of what it’s like to be God and encourage people (I’m not trying to be presumptuous here); and you also get to learn how important it is to take responsibility for your own life. It doesn’t mean you have to do the whole job. You just have to start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can. And ask for help when you need it.