Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Confessions of a Chaplain

Brussels Sprouts.  You know that feeling you get when I mention Brussels sprouts?  Yeah, that's about the same way I feel when I get a call from the hospital, but multiply it times 1,000.

Ministers, Preachers, Pastors, or whatever you call that person at your church, they are supposed to be super human in their empathy and comforting abilities right?  I have a confession to make.  When I get that call from the hospital that a family has requested a chaplain, I feel anything but super.  I feel downright human.  Even though I know I am helping the family, even though I know I'm helping the community, even though I know I'm spreading God's love, even though I know it builds me to be a more caring Christian, I dread it like Brussels sprouts.  They are good for me and everyone else, but I dread it.

I really only get called when there is a recent or an impending death.  Today was a hard one for me.  I got the call at 8:05 am.  I tried to pump the nurse for information, like it was really going to prep me for what I was about to do.  I hit my knees asking God for wisdom and words.  I read scripture of comfort.  I arrived at the hospital and probably looked funny praying aloud one more time in confines of my parked vehicle.  Sorry to those of you who were watching and thought, "That wacko is talking to himself again."  I spent most of my day with a large family (that I had never met before) until the "final" time came shortly after 2pm.  Readings from Psalm 23 and 27, prayers, hugs, and even my own wetted eyes filled the next twenty or so  minutes.    After making sure the family had a good grasp on and support for the tasks that came next, I made my way back to the office.

For a lot of chaplains, the nature of these calls just seems to roll off them like water off a duck's back.  Maybe they are in a more mature position of faith than I am.  Maybe they are more seasoned veterans than I am.  Whatever the reason, I feel discouraged that most of my volunteer chaplain work depresses me.  Why does it depress me?  I do everything to the best of my ability following all the literature that I have on pastoral care, so why do I still feel depressed?  I don't have a firm answer.  Maybe I still internalize too much of my environment and events.  Maybe I spend too much time talking with family members and building a relationship.  Maybe I'm simply doing it wrong.  Maybe I'm just weak in my maturity.  I'm not sure the reason, but after days like these, my mood is sullen and depressed.  It's a real hard mood to climb out of.  "They" say that writing your thoughts and feelings helps, so here I am.

As depressed as my mood gets, I did notice something strange today just as the finality of things was approaching.  My faith was increasing.  Gone are the wonderings of God's existence.  Gone are the  pleas for God to let me feel His presence.  Gone are the agnostic moments.  They are replaced in that time with a full surety that the God Almighty, Maker of the heavens and the earth, is right there in our midst.  I knew God was there today, I could feel Him in the room.

Have you ever noticed what happens to families and even strangers when someone's life is coming to an end?  How much does your family fight, argue, and disagree?  Yet in moments like today, there is no division between family members, only unity.  There is no jockying for position, but only support in lifting others up.  There is no malicious accusations, but only forgiveness, goodness, mercy, and kindness.  It's not just present among family members, but among ministers too.  When another minister, preacher, or pastor walks up to support the family, there is no sense of competitiveness.  There is no worry over what church they preach at or what their position is on worship styles.  You are simply grateful that another believer in Christ is there.  You are happy to have them support the family, support you, and for them to receive your own support.   Mercy, Goodness, Gentleness, and Kindness abound among all who are present in those times.  Unity is achieved, if only for a little while, and my faith increases.

As I read the last verse of Psalm 23, I was struck by it's presence in the room.  "Surely goodness and lovingkindness (mercy) will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."  Goodness and mercy sure were present in the room in the last day of this loved one's life.  What a wonderful way to be ushered into the house of the Lord forever.

Be sure to be kind to someone today.  Be merciful to someone you might be at odds with.  Spend a moment blessing someone else with unity in Spirit.  May you dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I feel better already.  Thank the Lord for Brussels sprouts and all those other tough moments in life.