Monday, July 14, 2014

Staying Spiritually Grounded

The demands of the hospice chaplaincy require a Chaplain to stay spiritually grounded. Crisis is the daily event for the Chaplain. Absorbing the pain of others, providing a presence of calmness and serenity in the face of chaos; assisting family members by listening to their pain, guilt, and sorrow; and, navigating the politic of a facility, ALF, or hospital takes its toll on the Chaplain. One might say that the ‘emotional cup’ of a hospice chaplain gets filled every day. Herein lies the absolute necessity of spiritual grounding. If I might digress to capture a thought that begs for expression … Many hospice chaplains come into the field from the parish pastorate. The reasons for this vary, but it can be said that there are those whose experiences with the local church were less than pleasant. For the Chaplain, as well as, the lay person, spiritual pain inflicts deep wounds that cry out for healing. As I review the 25 years I served as a Senior Pastor, I reflect upon the harshness of some church members, the judgmental-ism of church leaders, and the unfortunate surprise announcement that a family was changing their membership to another congregation. These type of events can and do leave a parish pastor in pain. On a very personal note, I recall a meeting with the deacons of the church I served when my marriage collapsed and divorce was pending. The meeting was called with the intent of electing new deacons to serve the spiritual needs of the church. Three men, however, had a different agenda. For an hour, they publicly flogged me emotionally, used the Bible as a brick bat, and when I failed to take the bait to respond in anger at them one of them wagged his finger in my face and declared, “You ought to be ashamed!” That whole scene was unbelievably painful. For the sake of clarity, this group was informed months previous that my marriage was in a shambles and I sought their prayers. When a pastor’s marriage fails it is a trauma to the lay leadership and the church as a whole. I do commend the general membership of that particular congregation as they allowed me to serve them for over a year and a half following the divorce. Those three men who co-opted the meeting soon left for membership in another congregation. It’s been over 10 years since the marriage break-up. God has healed the wounds. I have remarried and have a wonderful marriage and great life. Through those years, I have had the opportunities to fill in for pastors who were on vacation and even serve a church of nearly two years as a bi-vocational pastor. Some Chaplains will not serve in any capacity in a church. The wounds are just too deep and there are too many trigger points to remind them of the past. In knowing the amazing pastoral care skills these men and women possess, I can say with confidence that the church lost many skilled leaders. For me as a hospice Chaplain, these painful experiences inform me that the flashbacks are real and need to be dealt with. Stuffing pain is never a wise action. I believe the Bible says very clearly “let no bitter root grow up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15). Bitterness and hospice chaplaincy are totally incompatible. Being spiritually grounded then reaches backward to bring healing to the past. There are present realities that lend credence to spiritual grounding. Connecting with a family whose child is dying of Hurler’s Disease, with a woman whose husband of 48 years has lost his personality and body functions to late stage dementia, with a teenager who has just been thrown into emotional confusion by the untimely death of his father … each of these scenarios call for a chaplain whose spirituality is healthy and strong. Where does the Chaplain get this spiritual grounding? This question will have many answers. Some would say through attendance at a house of worship. Others would say, through daily reflection from Holy Scripture or other sacred writings. Still others would suggest through fellowship with a spiritual director. And others would not say, but affirm their grounding is solid. Wherever the Chaplain finds spiritual grounding is secondary to the fact that this is a vital need in the Chaplain’s life. What are your thoughts? How do you find spiritual grounding?

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