Guest commentary by Jacob Kennedy
Yep, the title of this piece is correct. I agreed to go to therapy. To some, that might not seem like anything noteworthy, but for me, this was a hard and beautiful step. I spent the designated 30 minutes on the new client form in my room. I even had a friend sit with me just to make sure it was completed. It wasn’t that things had gotten really bad. Nothing drastic had happened, but it was clear that it was time to talk. I was anxious, frustrated and, at times, felt like my mind would not stop racing. So, I agreed to go to therapy.
Let me give you a little context. I am first year seminary student. I am 23 years old. A month and half after graduating college, I moved to New Jersey and started my seminary journey with summer Greek, which wrapped up two weeks before the start of fall semester. I got through that first semester just fine, even managing to do well in my classes. Things seemed to be going great! Now, I know what you are thinking. That was a lot of transition in a short amount of time. Of course, it wasn’t easy. But, when I came back from Christmas break, something felt off. I began to feel even more pressure weighing me down and I wasn’t sleeping well. That’s how I knew I really wasn’t doing as well as I thought. A few times, I had the new counseling client form pulled up, but I just couldn’t do it. I made poor excuses, found things to do or went back to bed in order to avoid this moment. Finally, after a morning of waking up at 5 a.m., which proceeded into a day of attempts to distract myself through copious amounts of coffee and articles about the Carolina Hurricanes, I realized my distractions weren’t working anymore. It was time to take what felt like a plunge. So, I agreed to go to therapy.
Now, I am a very large advocate for therapy. I encourage others to go all the time. However, one thing I am finding out in ministry is that it’s a lot easier to help others but not as easy to help ourselves. After filling out the form, I realized that I was upset. Not that I had to go to therapy, but that I hadn’t taken care of myself. I wasn’t treating my mind as a temple. I think I learned one of the major first lessons of ministry: We have to have grace for ourselves. Not just grace for parishioners, members, fellow staff or denominations. Grace, just as God shows for so many characters in the Bible. We have to show grace for ourselves, because clearly God is a God of grace. That is the example of God’s love that we need to remember. We have to be able to forgive ourselves and be willing to acknowledge our struggles if we are going to continue to successfully move forward in ministry. When we forgive ourselves, acknowledging the beautiful parts of ourselves and the parts that need healing, we are working to embrace our authentic selves, who God calls us to be. What comes forth is that we live into our call to ministry. So, I agreed to go to therapy, which is just the beginning. I still have to work hard to show myself grace.
So why am I writing this article? I heard a preacher say: “Sometimes, you preach sermons in the mirror. You are preaching so that maybe you personally need to hear what the gospel is telling.” Well, this piece is my “mirror.” I am writing this as I continue to work to understand that going to therapy for yourself is OK. I need to remind myself that I made a big step, but the hard work is just beginning. I’m getting ready for a long personal journey. I’m reminding myself (and maybe others), “Sometimes Jacob, ministry will be difficult, you’ll feel insufficient, you’ll struggle — but don’t forget to love yourself.” My hope is that maybe, just maybe, this will also encourage others, if you haven’t taken the step, to not be afraid to seek help. And if you have already taken the step to talk with someone, continue to do so.
For the first time in a few nights, I can genuinely say that I feel ready for bed. So, tonight I agreed to go to therapy, because as Kanye West’s song “We God Love” reminds me, self-love is the best love as I embrace my authentic self, and ultimately that will help me live into my call to ministry. Especially in this time, I hope you will do the same.
JACOB KENNEDY is a first year M.Div. student at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, but calls Wilson, North Carolina, home. In his free time, Jacob enjoys watching sports, barefoot running and playing golf with his dad.