The Taser's Edge


On Thursday afternoon, I finally had my interview for a CPE residency at Duke Hospital.  ‘Finally’ because I was sick on Monday and had to reschedule.  It was brutal, although I didn’t realize until today.  As I prepared for this interview and the one at UNC, I kept thinking to myself that they were going to be my first real job interviews.  And UNC was.  They asked questions like, “Tell us about a particular incident during your CPE internship in which your theology was challenged.”  I had those incidents.  I can answer questions like that.

I knew that Duke was going to be different.  A friend had told me that one of their questions was, “When was the last time you were angry, and what did you do about it?”  On the basis of answers to questions like this, they decide who they want offering spiritual and emotional care to the patients at Duke Hospital.  (Okay, they do have a file on the semester I spent with them, a big application I sent in, and five letters of reference.)

I knew it was going to be different, but I wasn’t prepared for this.  Four people on staff–CPE supervisors, staff chaplains, etc.–and me in a room.  The questions began harmlessly enough, but then they pressed and pressed: “As I look at your verbatim [report of a pastoral encounter], I see the pastoral care and counseling aspect, but where is the clinical aspect?”  Gulp.  Mind racing: What does clinical mean in this setting?  Did I already learn this?  Should I ask? I asked.  He clarified.  I answered.  Kind of.

And later: “As you’ve been talking to us, I know that you’re sick but I noticed that you’ve cleared your throat a couple times, and that you’ve buttoned and unbuttoned your suit coat.  Did you notice that, too?  [I hadn’t.]  Now I know even Freud said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but could you tell us if you’re experiencing anxiety right now?  If so, could you just let yourself rest in that experience and describe it to us?”  W-o-w.  What do you say to that?  You spill your guts.  This is not a regular job interview.

Like I said at the beginning, at the time I didn’t realize how brutal it was.  It actually felt kind of good being pressed to see new areas for growth in myself, blind spots uncovered as well as some old growth edges that still could use some work.  I thanked them for the interview, and I really meant it.  They had grilled me, but I had some wonderful things to think about whether or not I ever heard from them again.  (I kind of think I will, because I’ve heard vulnerability is what they look for.)  I went to my precept that afternoon and my comments were marked with emotional honesty…very important to a discussion of Nicomachean Ethics.  Really, it’s not a joke that my mouth was freed up to say what I really thought of particular arguments and conversations, and that is a good thing.

The next morning, Friday, I got up and messed around on the Internet most of the day.  Today, Saturday, was more of the same.  At some point in the late morning or early afternoon today, I realized that this interview has sent me eddying sideways for at least a little while here.  Into the doldrums.  Being pressed that hard to see that I still have real issues to deal with made me feel like the progress that I’ve made thus far counts for nothing and is nothing.  All my hard work of self-discovery through being personally honest and through practices of journaling, prayer, meditation, and honest relationships, and I still have these massive blind spots.  And with the hopelessness accompanying how little I felt that I’d come, along came the complete loss of drive and momentum toward the future.

What I’ve done these last couple days is to reduce this process called sanctification–a lifetime of having my tightly wound, terrified soul gently unwound and reshaped into the image of God–into too basic terms.  Am I done yet?  Nope.  Am I a failure?  No.

I am better.  Better than ever before.  Whole is not here yet, but whole is coming too.  I believe it.  Now if only I could get back to work.

“With all our heart and with all our mind, let us pray to the Lord, saying, ‘Lord, have mercy.'” Amen.