Entry #19: The Royal Throne of Holier than Thou!
Welcome to the royal throne of holier than thou, this is a pastoral visit account of a hostile patient (1st assumption). My 1st impression and/or opinion was because of her tone and the way she spoke to me. And how she made her family in the room so nervous. She had never met me before, yet she was already defensively offended, strong-willed, and sharp/harsh, yet a frail 87-year-old African American woman/grandmother patient. This patient visit was generated by a pager code page from the nurses’ station to the chaplain on-call, I wasn’t the Chaplain on-call that day. I was asked by one of the resident chaplain’s would I take this visit to assist him. He stated that the nurse said that the patient’s family requested the pastoral care visit. As I was walking down the hallway towards the patient’s room. I saw a male standing outside the room door where I was going to enter. I spoke, and he spoke back. I knock on the door and entered the room. The male in the hall got off the phone and followed me into the room. While holding the door, I noticed two middle aged females sitting in the chairs by the window, and then I saw the empty bed with messed up sheets. There sitting beside the hospital bed in the chair by the window was an elderly little frail woman diagnosed with failure to thrive and advanced lung cancer. She sat up and braced herself on the arm of the chair to address me. She stated, “don’t be coming in here thinking you all, holier than thou! I’m not perfect, I done the best I could.”
Holier than thou is, “characterized by an attitude of moral superiority. Sanctimonious, self-righteous, complacent, smug, self-satisfied, priggish, pious, pietistic, Pharisaic outwardly displayed demeanor (Cambridge Dictionary, 2019). I turned my head and looked behind me at the door to see if she was possibly talking to someone else (I smiled). I’m not, I’m Chaplain Pressey, your family requested a pastoral care visit for you. And by the way, I’m not perfect, either. “Ok, then, can you bring me a hot toddy?” Her family/adult grandchildren looked at me a bit embarrassed & smiled watching to see what I was going to say. Well, I can’t get you a hot toddy, but I can pray for you. She said, alright then, come on and pray for me then, but I’m not perfect, I’m nothing but a sinner. I responded, “well God loves you anyway because we have all been sinners. And by the way, nobody is perfect. Only He is perfect. And He didn’t ask us to be perfect, but He asked us to be faithful.” She also stated, “yeah, I’ve done lived the best that I could, but I drink and smoke.” That’s ok, “He still loves you; would you mind if I sing you a song and pray for you?” She said, yes, come on. (I start walking closer to her, she sits up in the chair and moved closer to me. I bent over to take her hands and I start singing to her):
Welcome Holy Spirit
Be here with your presence
Fill me with your Power
Dwell inside of me
Welcome Holy Spirit
Be here with your presence
Fill me with Your Power
Live inside of me
You're the Living Water
Never drying Fountain
Comforter and Counselor
Take complete control
Welcome Holy Spirit
Be here with Your Presence
Fill me with your power
Live inside of me
While singing to her, she moved her hand to turn the TV down, then she took my hand back and squeezed it tightly and smiled. When I finished singing, before I prayed, I looked her in her eyes and stated, “I just want to thank the Lord for you being 87 years old. I honor you and the legacy that you have established for your family. (She smiled), thank you. I tired but I wasn’t perfect. And that’s alright, what’s important is loving one another. The Bible says that it’s through love that man will know Him through us. So, the most important thing is love. She nodded her head at me, so I started praying:
Father, thank you for the long life of Ms. Nana, she has built a family
legacy of long life. Touch and heal her body from the crown of her head
to the souls of her feet. Let her know that You love her just the way she is.
Give her your peace. You came to love all who have sinned. Bless her and
her family and provide whatever she needs. Please received this prayer
I humbly ask in Jesus precious name, Amen!
As I closed out this patient visit, she and her family thanked me, I checked if they were good and I asked if they needed anything else? Then as I walked toward the door and opened it. I looked back at them and said, have a nice day, and please feel free to have the nurse to call if you need another visit. Can someone, please get her, her hot toddy or whatever she wants? Everyone busted out laughing.
The very first moment she saw me, she addressed me with a very judgmental defensive statement. It did surprise me, but I have heard the holier than thou statement before so it didn’t offend me at all. In that very pastoral moment, I decided to use humor to deflect her statement. I saw the other families faces holding their breath a bit nervously embarrassed, but waiting to see how I was going to respond. I froze at the door and decided to turned around in the room and look at the doors as if to say, she must be talking to someone else behind me. The 3 family members smiled, and I responded to this 87-year-old frail feisty elderly women with softness and respect for my elders. Her cultural background was established the minute that I entered the room. It was that she was royalty, and the boss of her family. So, I ministered from her place of a matriarchal family head. The way the 3 family members were nervous about the way she spoke to me. I knew that it would be important to honor her family role in order to establish a pastoral relationship with the patient. In talking with the patient, she gave me some insight into meeting her spiritual needs. (1) She wasn’t perfected was a strong theme in our conversation. (2) She felt that she was a sinner. And (3) She provided me with knowing her bad behavior of smoking and drinking.
This African American female was about 30 years older than me. Her positional power was honored and respected by me in order to gain a prayerful relationship. In this patient visit I had the opportunity to use a cultural method of honoring our African American elders to obtain access to meeting her emotional and spiritual needs. When I ask if I could sing to her, I gave her the power to say yes or no. So, I was using humility as a relationship building approach. When I took both of her hands in mine, she moved closer to me, she even smiled. She was no longer as harsh as she was in the beginning. I thought that it was very sweet of her to turn down the TV to hear the song. When she put her hand back in mine, she squeezed my hand and smile. Then I opened my prayer for her with thankfulness for her being 87 and in her right mind.
This patient was in her royal family throne of which her adult grandchildren demonstrated a great since of respect for her. It was important for me to also demonstrate honor and respect for her too, so that I could provide her with the spiritual care that she needed. Remember it was her grandchildren that requested the pastoral visit. I learned in this patient encounter that not to be so easily offended it would have gotten in the way of my chaplain responsibilities. Of which nothing or know one should be able to push one out of their true character. As one encounters the sick and suffering, we must learn not to take their responses or non-responses too personal. Ms. Nana was actually a sweet, funny, and yet a tough senior citizen that seemed to have lived a rough, sinful life in her eyes. Yet what was more important was that she was dying and needed comforting, understanding, and compassion. It is my belief in reflecting on this moment that Ms. Nana was given what she needed and that was the honoring presence of the living water that can provide all peace, comfort, and counsel. May we each live, learn, and grow in how to reach others who are suffering. A Chaplain’s purpose on purpose!
Here’s a sneak preview, “No, FRIENDLY Fire, please!” Until next time.
For the sake of the Chaplain’s healing Call!
Chaplain Jacqueline M. Pressey, Ed.D.
Cambridge Dictionary (2019). Retrieved on February 19, 2019 from