The calming music and neutral colors were encouraging, but when I saw the Buddha board I knew for sure I was in the right place--my new therapist's office. I hadn't seen a therapist (for myself) since college. But it was time.
I've had a fairly stressful two and a half years. I finally had to admit that I don't pay my spiritual director enough to deal with all the stuff I had been bringing to him lately. Oh, also, I hit my insurance deductible, so free therapy.
I could have gone to a "Christian counselor." That would make sense for a pastor, I guess. But the truth is, that term frightens me. It conjures up images of gay patients being hooked up to electroshock machines, which I know doesn't happen anymore and I'm not gay anyway but still... I didn't go to a Christian therapist.
Turns out I went to a particularly secular therapist who freaked out--in a very emotionally mature and subtle way--when she read on my sheet that I was a pastor. "I'll try not to cuss," she said.
"I don't care. Really," I assured her. But she looked skeptical.
"Tell me what brings you in."
"Well, two years ago this past March my dad died. He was diagnosed with natural killer cell leukemia/lymphoma and two days later he was dead."
"Jesus!" said my therapist, as she slammed her open hand over her quickly closing mouth.
Maybe it was because my situation was truly exclamation-worthy. Or maybe it was because she realized I actually didn't care about her language. Probably some combination of the two. But I am happy to report that the remainder of the session was peppered with expletives.
I found it very therapeutic to listen to someone swear on my behalf.
The truth is, despite my hip, rebellious image, I personally do not use cuss words much. I grew up in a household where "butt" and "sucks" would elicit raised eyebrows and stern looks from my pastor parents. (When Dad received his awful diagnosis, I texted my brother: "This sucks." He texted back: "Sure does." We felt very naughty in the midst of our misery.) My friends were all pretty clean cut. I just never developed the knack for swearing.
I've expanded my vocabulary a bit since I moved out of my childhood home. As a guest preacher once, a man informed me he had never heard the word "pissy" from the pulpit before. And I did use "ass" in a blog post once--but only in quotes. (And even then I got a phone call because some pastors somewhere thought it was not "suitable" for a pastor to use "that kind of language." Of course, what they meant was that it was not "suitable" for a pastor to be lacking a "penis." But whatever.)
True cuss words just don't feel right in my mouth and I feel like a fraud when I say them (or type them); however, I have a deep appreciation for people who cuss really well. I love my colleagues who, like Nadia Boltz-Weber, "love Jesus" and "swear a little." An email from a fellow Mennonite pastor containing a perfectly placed "F" word once pulled me from the brink.
When non-pastors cuss around me, it means they either don't know I'm a pastor at all--which is nice for a change--or they know I'm not that kind of pastor--which is always good. And when people in my own congregation cuss around me, I feel honored that they are being real.
I will admit that I'm not so keen on my children cussing. My son went through a phase where he would make threats like, "If you make me do my homework I'm going to start cussing." Still, the homework had to be done. And when he did, in fact, start cussing, I wasn't so offended by the words themselves as by the sheer artlessness with which he used them.
Maybe I should sign him up for a few sessions with my therapist. Now there's a woman who knows how to cuss.