I previously posted the first part of a conversation with Lisa C., a mental health professional who recently took a new position as a clinical services director at a psychiatric hospital. The position was quite different from what she had been doing and entailed moving her entire family to a new location. The first part of our conversation explored what factors led her to make such a significant life change. That post concludes with my comments about the process she went through in coming to the decision to take the position, looking especially at the emotional and spiritual aspects. As we continued to talk, we looked more at the gradual process of growth that Lisa’s work experiences through the years had evoked. Here is our discussion:
Bob: So looking back over your experiences over the past decades, how do you understand those experiences differently than what you did at the time?
Lisa: A huge chuck of that understanding is my understanding of myself. When I look back at similar challenges I had in other jobs, for example my first job at Charter Hospital, it went successfully for a while, and in terms of doing the job well, that worked out fine, but the interpersonal issues, challenges I think I helped create for myself because of my immature attitudes, lack of understanding of relationships, how I handled myself, those same things are coming up now. So when I look back, I can say, “OK, Lisa, part of the problem back then was management, I took ethical issue with their admissions policies, but how I handled that in retrospect was self-defeating.” I ended up leaving that position because of conflict with a very difficult CEO. I don’t know that the outcome would have been different. Looking back, there were similar dynamics to what I’m now encountering in terms of giving in to administrative authority, where to stand my ground on ethical issues. I would handle the interpersonal aspects very differently now since I can see where I was at fault.
It sounds like through all these experiences you’ve been changed, not you’ve changed but you’ve been changed.
Can you relate that to your faith?
I’ve had a relationship with Christ since I was a child, but it’s really only been in recent years that I’ve grown exponentially compared with the previous 30 years. It’s been the last 10 years being really instrumental in my insight and looking back over my life and seeing how God had changed me. There’s been a lot more growth there than in the previous 30. God most definitely has guided that process. It’s been difficult. I feel like I’ve gained intrapersonal insight, I know who I am, but I struggle with those identity issues. God has used my professional experiences to show me who I am and who he is wanting me to become.
That’s a good way of putting it, that the process of change never ends.
Exactly. God has used me despite my lack of growth and my immaturity at different phases. I look back and I’m so, so grateful that he used me in my fallibility, weakness, and stupidity to touch other people’s lives. That’s what I desire the most, what I really, really want. Not only has he used me to touch other people’s lives, but I’ve also grown to understand he wants me to know me and to know him. It’s more than just being a servant, it’s about being that other partner in the relationship with God, and I’m learning more about that.
How does it go on a day to day basis taking your faith into this new, very difficult situation that God has put you in?
The one thing that probably helps me the most in dealing with the challenges and being more attentive and waiting on God to show me is the prayer I pray daily. I pray for God to use me first and foremost in advancing his kingdom here on earth but I also ask him to show me who I am, to guide me in my behavior and my responses to others, to see myself clearly, to see with his eyes of truth. There are parts of me he is trying to change that I don’t necessarily see. Asking him to reveal to me what I need to know in order to be obedient to him. To be honest, I don’t know exactly what he is trying to change in me, I just know he’s trying to change me. I don’t want to be so passive in the process that I don’t see what he is trying to get me to see.
Did you have anything you wanted to add?
Just that I’m realizing more than ever that, aside from service and other things that are part of my spiritual walk, he is wanting me to focus on relationship, and it truly is what’s most important to me, but I’m also really struggling with that. In Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development you can’t really be fully functional in an intimate relationship until you know who you are. I feel that is where I’m at spiritually. I’m stuck in adolescence in that I’m still learning who I am.
I have to admit that I, too, though 15 years older than Lisa, am still learning who I am. That learning often involves, as Lisa described, looking back over decades of my life and noticing how I responded to similar issues then and now. Lisa also points out how we learn about ourselves in relationships with other people and with God. Our self-knowledge can’t be static, since we ourselves are always in the midst of transformation. Thus, in midlife and late life, we can say both “I know myself better than ever,” and “I still know myself so poorly.”