On February 24, 2014, a call came through my Google voice. It was Sandra, my supervisor from the hospital where I served as a contingent chaplain.“I’m really sorry to call you. This is the kind of call I dread making...We are cutting back once again and laying off all of our contingent chaplains. We will no longer be needing your services...but please feel free to come back and volunteer. The psych unit loves you!”
I am now a statistic. Another chaplain team cut. People with years of training replaced by volunteers. I love volunteerism and engage in it frequently myself. But this job was my mission. It defined me, inspired me and gave me purpose.
I have well over twenty years of training woven together into chaplaincy. Trained as a psychotherapist, I was led into spiritual direction and then moved into chaplaincy, realizing that all of these threads were being braided together. How could this happen?
Health care, as most of know, is in a transitional crisis--with no one left to foot the bill for spiritual care. The one thing that truly defines us as human is our spirit. Are institutions of healing cognizant of the need for integrated medicine, that which includes mental, emotional and spiritual care?
I would ask patients, “How is your spirit?” just prior to their surgeries. Studies show that a patient at peace has a greater chance of healing well than one whose body is wracked by anxiety. (http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/742642 ) We know this, but never factor it into our health assessments.
Hospitals without chaplains are in danger of becoming “body shops.” Fix this, change that, remove the broken part and put the person back on the road to face life with the same issues and no greater resources to weather the storms.
“Oh, let their pastors and elders do the work…
”Do you have any idea how many people are disconnected from their faiths of origin? (for a variety of reasons that I’ll not enumerate here)
“We can’t afford chaplains…”
Our society seems to afford anything it values.
In my encounters with patients as a chaplain, the most important attribute I live out is unconditional love, the kind of love that Jesus displayed that crossed all boundaries--religious, cultural, racial, socio-economic, level of mental health, country of origin. The love of Christ penetrates people no matter where they have been, what their journey has been like or where they find themselves at the moment. When I enter a room, the Spirit of God has been there ahead of me, preparing the person to encounter unfathomable love. I am perpetually on Holy Ground, whether or not I speak.
Hand-holding is my specialty, touch that says, “You are not alone in this. Draw on the faith you knew as a child. Integrate that with where you are now. Your journey is not unknown. There is life among the ashes--open your eyes to see it.”
Sometimes in writing my thoughts down on paper, I have the “a-ha” moment. God works like that. “Look at what you have written and find my perspective” is what I often hear God say. And what I hear is something like this: A role does not define you. You are who you are because of me. Use the gifts I have instilled in you and enlarge your vision. See the man by the side of the road holding up a sign that shares his condition with you. Acknowledge him. Look him in the eye. Pray for him. Provide for him in whatever way you can. See the woman at the cash register. Hear the sadness in her voice. Ask her how she is doing and don’t settle for ‘fine.’ Invite the one into your life who is not accepted by others. Show love to the neighbor who yells at you. Bring that unconditional love into every encounter. I am not limited to your role or your job. The world is my hospital. Be in it and love as I love--everyone!
True for me AND true for you!