It will happen to every Chaplain. There will come the “evil day” (using the Biblical idea found in the Bible book of Ephesians). It may involve health, finances, family, or something deeply personal. The issue I want to address has to do with how the Chaplain handles these types of situations and maintains his or her reputation. I am not for a moment suggesting or advocating for stoicism or grin and bear it response. I am advocating for a response to serious stress that will prevent the Chaplain from losing the most valuable possession in all that he or she has …reputation.
I want to suggest 5 Keys to maintaining one’s reputation:
1. Develop a support system that will be there for such a time as this. I recall a number of years ago when I was a senior pastor. It was obvious to me that I made a terrible mistake in moving my family across the state to this new place of service. The church was in disarray and in no way ready to even think of becoming a witness to the community. There were factions upon factions. I called upon the local denominational leader and spoke to him about my assessment of the situation. He agreed with my assessment and then told me it was much worse. That was not what I wanted nor needed to hear. Time proved he was correct. I then asked him a question that he scoffed at. I asked if there were a safety net of sorts for such a situation so that I could move from that place. I learned something of great value from that experience. The lone ranger style of life and leadership will leave the pastor or Chaplain with no resources at a time of crisis. I began to build a network of like-minded ministers who I could call or meet to unload the pain I was enduring. There is almost a syndrome among ministers to go it alone, to be a lone ranger. Build a network of colleagues who will encourage you and support you.
2. Watch your emotions. It is very easy to express emotions that will border on bitterness, but will definitely express anger or rage. Lay persons will never understand the level of stress you are experiencing as a Chaplain. The work of chaplaincy is something all to itself. If you express the depth of your emotions, which probably are valid, but way too strong at the moment, you will leave your colleagues and managers wondering about what really is happening with you. Of course, you haven’t told them the entire story, so they only hear what they hear and see what they see. Be very careful at this point. It is not wise to unpack your emotions with colleagues. Unpack emotions within your network of close friends, instead.
3. As you counsel those you visit and provide spiritual support, seek to deepen yourself spiritually. Use your well-developed spirituality to find inner peace. Pray, read your Sacred Texts, journal, ponder, meditate, and promise yourself you will keep the emotions between you and God. If need be, seek counsel from your Pastor, Priest, or other Faith-community Leader. Getting it out often helps reduce the stress level for a time.
4. If you choose to speak to someone up the leadership chain, choose your words carefully. Be careful that you do not come across as assigning blame on them for your plight. That will not turn out well for you. It’s not that they are too busy to hear you out, they need to understand what is happening and what it is you would like them to do to help. Again, I caution, choose your words, your tone of voice and attitude carefully.
5. When you come through the crisis (as you will) approach any and all you spoke to and assure them that their listening ear was helpful to you. Exude humility and genuine gratitude. Be gracious in expressing how much the time they took with you meant to you. That will go a long way to solidifying your relationships.
Crises happen. It’s a fact of life. Ruining your reputation over the crisis is rarely the first choice of the Chaplain. Do your best to maintain your poise and dignity. Tears are fine and understandable. Emotional outbursts in front of the wrong audience will have lasting negative results. Bless you as you endure.