There have been many who have asked “So what was it like to be a hospital chaplain?” The answer to this question is inevitably too long for the person asking. I spent the summer as a full-time chaplain at a Phoenix hospital and the experience was rich enough to defy summation.
I was consistently invited into the lives of people, who, seconds earlier, were complete strangers to me. I was told the life stories, great fears, and incredible sorrows. The patients I saw were ordinary people. These are not the voices that we often hear in memoirs or on CNN. Most of us would never get the opportunity to hear these stories because, to be honest, we generally don’t care. People poured out their hearts to me. Often they were not Christians and had no real value for the title “pastor.” I was struck by the fact that every day I would come across a “Holy Moment.” I was privileged to enter the life of my neighbor, the person my God commands me to love. I have tried to do so many times over the years; this was the first time my neighbor was interested. No matter how weary or burnt out I felt that day a patient or family member would fall into my schedule for by divine providence. They would then share a crippling fear or starling hope with me and we would talk or pray for quite a while.
Thankfully this happened only once or twice a day because I doubt I could have born the weight of the significance. It was hit-and-run beauty, like a flower in the desert, shocking and then gone; I would be left with the humbling reality that God had used me in a moment which I was woefully unprepared for. I was a tool: a word which we ministers often use of ourselves, yet in this time it was more obvious than ever before. In situations which I was not (nor could I ever have been) prepared for, amazing things happened. Plainly, I am not that good. If I had doubted the reality that God takes an active role in the work of ministry it evaporated in the hospital. In a way even the ordinary conversations with people were valuable in their own way. But it was the Holy Moments, those surprising conversations that stood out against the white noise of suffering, that I treasure from my time as a Chaplain.
I have been finding that my study of the book of Job has become like a man who looks at brilliant light and thereafter finds a small green spot always in view. It seems that everywhere I turn I hear people talking about Job without realizing it. A young man I struck up a conversation with told me that he doesn’t know why bad things happen to good people. Another friend told me she has been wondering if God is good or if He is causing harm on purpose. Its strange but the more I read the book the more I realize that people need to be acquainted with Job. This is not to say that reading the book will answer their questions, far from it. Rather Job asks the same disquieting questions we do, in Job we experience the solidarity of suffering. Much the same way we see compassion in Jesus- suffering alongside. People need to be aware that the bible doesn’t shy away from questions that seem to frighten many evangelicals. Job allows us to be “inappropriate” before God, to tell him we don’t trust him at the moment, to lay out our emotions that are far from the “Sunday best.”
Its interesting that whenever my books are out i tend to be interrupted by strangers curious about the book. One young man actually told me that Job was his “favorite religious book.” Intrigued I told him that this was atypical even for Christians and I asked why he liked it so much. He told me that though he wasn’t a part of any particular religion he liked job because it seemed “so honest.” “Job asks the questions of humanity.” Another person, an elderly woman who self-identified as Jewish, told me that Job was importnat to her
Since about the month of march I have been truly overloaded. There were the 2 church jobs, the 5 masters classes and then the 40 hour a week unpaid chaplaincy gig. I have also managed to propose to a wonderful woman plus planning a wedding that is coming both all too soon and not soon enough. If this weren’t time consuming enough, I have been transitioning from one church job to the next. My life has been hectic to say the least.
The thing I have missed most during this time is the time to reflect and process. In the Hebrew bible at the very beginning God is pretty busy. He gets a lot done in a short span of time to say the least. But he doesn’t just move on to the next big act of creation, another project among many. Instead he takes a break, he stops, and breathes it all in. Yet as I think about it God rests all along the way (cf gen 1:4-5, 7-8, 12-13, 18-19, 21-23, 25). Like any good artist he takes a step back from his work and evaluates it on its own terms. Each piece in place, He inspects the whole and enjoys what he has accomplished. Sabbath is a word about rest the sort we take by following God’s example (cf gen 1:31-2:4, ex 20:8ff, deut 5). Yet in America we struggle mightily with the concept of “rest. We understand “sleep” or “food coma” “veg-out in front of the tv” but we do not understand rest. The strange thing is that despite the inclusion of this among the 10 commandments (alongside unthinkables like “murder”) we often dismiss the idea of having a full day in which we are neither producers, nor consumers (the two great temptations of our society). By contrast, in the original languages of scripture, “sabbath” can refer to either aether day of rest or just the generic word for week. This is not some grand hidden meaning in scripture but I think it creates an interesting blurring of the boundaries between the Lord’s day and the rest of the week. What if we spent our week mindful of the fact that ultimately our creation is a subset of a grander work in which we too are players? What if we could slow down enough to notice, or better yet enjoy, what God is making in and around us? What if we could ride the line between laziness and an addiction to business?
I am coming to an end of a very busy season in my life and the new church I am working with demands that I take one day off and one Sabbath. I was surprised to find out that they actually distinguish between the 2 and provide accountability to make sure the employees stay healthy. I am looking forward to following in the Master Gardener’s footsteps.