By David Lewellen
Br. Loughlan Sofield, ST, proved to the NACC conference that resilience can be very funny.
Sofield, an author, speaker, and counselor with the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, spoke on the importance of resilience in returning to God, but punctuated his talk with jokes that kept the ballroom laughing.
“You can’t make all things new,” he said, playing off the theme of the conference, “but you can make one thing new — yourself.”
“Everything I say to you is common sense,” Sofield said. “You already know it. I’m reinforcing it.” Collaboration, compassion, integrity, are important, he said, but the greatest quality is to be filled with life.
Sofield said that sympathy is feeling what another person feels, and empathy is imagining what it would be like to be that person, but compassion is a spiritual term missing from psychiatric dictionaries. Active listening is compassionate, he said, and “what makes people sick is not being listened to.” And that is the major gift and responsibility of chaplains, he said.
Before talking about the positive presence of life, Sofield ran down a list of things that can drain it — anger, loss, failure, and burnout. “Is it possible that anyone who’s a chaplain could ever burn out?” he asked, drawing laughter. Symptoms, he said, include identifying oneself with one’s ministry: “Listen to them. They’re boring — because all they ever talk about is their ministry.” But it can progress to exhaustion, withdrawal, depression, and terminal cynicism and free-floating hostility.
“Who in your life have you given permission to challenge you?” he asked. “Who do you allow to minister to you? Are you as forgiving and loving and compassionate to yourself as you are to the people you minister to?”
Sofield said that he once gave a presentation on the constructive role of anger to a room full of bishops, and one said sternly, “Young man, anger is one of the seven deadly sins.” But, he continued, that word has been replaced by “wrath,” defined as a behavior, not a feeling, since no feeling is bad in itself.
“There’s only one treatment for anger, and it’s forgiveness,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s easy.” But holding on to anger is “dying on behalf of someone I don’t even like.” Forgiveness does not condone the action of the other person, and it is not the same as reconciliation, which takes two — but we all control forgiveness. “You don’t have to tell someone you forgive them. Let’s get that straight.” And forgiveness is necessary every time the memory recurs, which is the power of Jesus’ injunction to forgive “seventy times seven.”
In dealing with loss, “you can’t learn to say hello until you learn to say goodbye,” Sofield said, but “grieving is never completed.”