Entry 6: You Deserve a Break today!
Updated: Oct 1
Come on in, pull up a chair and take a seat, as a hospital chaplain there are times when you hear those beautiful words like that. Those few little words mean that this pastoral visit won’t be rushed, nor will it be superficial. A patient consult that a patient requested means that they have something spiritual to discuss, right, wrong, not always. I have had patients consult visits where patients have just wanted to talk even if it is 2am in the morning and they can’t sleep. I have had many pastoral breaks that started out as a chaplain visit and then turned into a chaplain break from ministering, but sometimes I’ve been ministered to. They have been very special moments that have enriched my pastoral care presences and also to me personally.
During my seven years of hospital chaplaincy I have encountered many precious moments with patients. I’ve also encountered really difficult ones when patients were angry, afraid, and/or lonely. Whether it has been with a seasoned pastor giving me pastoral nuggets of wisdom at the end of his life as he cried over his pastoral life, a 20 year homeless person who I had to talk into staying to allow them to treat him or someone who called for a chaplain visit to celebrate being told that they were cancer free. The spectrum is wide, every patient visit is different and it is a privilege to serve them all most of the time. I’m keeping it real: I have had some patient visits where I have been scared to death of them and nervously wanted the visit to end quickly. I’ve even been pushed out of a room and had the door slammed in my face by a teenager as the dad was saying I’m so sorry. So, this ministry is truly not for the faint of heart. Sometimes you just can’t take it personally, hurt people, hurt people.
I have turned down many gracious opportunities where a patient or their family has wanted to thank me for serving them. Money, gifts, invitations to dinners at their home to counsel, talk, and/or celebrate. Even the pastoral department received a call requesting me as the singing Chaplain when they didn’t remember my name. But one day I got an invitation that I couldn’t refuse. I had a mid-morning clinical patient consult from a Caucasian woman in her mid-sixties. I entered her room and saw a very cheerful woman sitting in her bed. I introduced myself, hello I’m Chaplain Pressey, and she greeted me and said, pull up a chair and have a seat. I did as she asked, her countenance was so jubilant that it relaxed me and I stopped being in my head trying to prepare for some deep spiritual pastoral thing that I should say. We hadn’t even really started to talk yet, but I felt so at ease and not on chaplain guard. I can honestly say that she had invited me into a pastoral break.
What was interesting about her as she began her story about getting the news that she was now cancer free and she wanted to celebrate with someone. Her room atmosphere was also, very bright, cheerful, and sunny, because she was. I could feel the presence of the joy of the Lord as she started to talk with me. She told me that this was the second time that she had to have her breast removed. Which meant that she had now lost both of her breast to breast cancer. She stated, “there just breast, I have my life!” She talked about her life going through chemo treatments, being sick, and her main joy in her life. Her life's passion was dragon boating,through all of it. I became the listening participant in this pastoral encounter whom occasionally asked questions for clarity. We laughed many times during her ups and downs of her cancer journey story, even some of the setbacks, like having breast cancer the second time. Then she got to her lessons learned, they were powerful, meaningful, and inspired me to tears. Yes, this chaplain had been invited into this patient’s intimate personal life, she drew me in and I was touched, vulnerable and inspired. I was the one receiving pastoral care during this visit.
This wonderful lady blessed my soul so much with her stories, her ups and down, her optimism of her future. She was really modeling her suffering way better that I had been modeling mine.
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for
us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look
not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not
seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things
which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4: 17 & 18, KJV).
She was raising the bar of the joy of the Lord in spite of all that she had been through. She started sharing with me her love for dragon boating adventures and how the team of ladies where all cancer survivors that were supporting her. She also stated that she never stopped doing it during the 3 years of cancer treatment. Well, I had never heard of dragon boating before and when she pulled up the pictures on her phone to show me what it looked like. To my surprise, I was interested in trying it, it looked like so much fun. Well, she invited me to her dragon boating cancer free celebration. I told her I would think about it, then she gave me her contact information and I gave her mine as she said, please come with a smile on her face. Our visit came to a close, she was the only patient that I visited that day, because of the extended time that we talked.
What are you doing with your light afflictions/suffering? Well, my afflictions/weaknesses led me into to this arena of pastoral care. Living a life to glorify God is my primary function no matter what I have gone through, I’m called to be fruitful in every season of my life, what about you? The point is I made it through it. There are so many valuable connections and life changing experiences that I have experienced serving as a hospital chaplain. This patient’s visit flipped the script of ministering on me, because of her joyous presence, she not only invited me into her suffering, but she included me in her celebration. We were strangers, yet I knew and understood her. It’s important to participate in living a full and enriched life, even if that invitation comes from a stranger.
About a month later, this patient contacted me to see if I would come to her dragon boat party on that Saturday. I told her yes and that I was bringing my daughter, too. She sounded so excited, I’m so glad that I had agreed to come. Let me tell you that I had an absolute blast learning how to dragon boat with her team. Interesting fact, due to her still recovering from her breast remove surgery she wasn’t able to go boating with us, but she was still having so much fun with everyone. Now why was I really there? It turned out after the boating, there was food, fun, and fellowship. She introduced me as the hospital chaplain that I told you about. I smiled, and then it happened, we all stood in a circle and the ladies one by one introduced themselves to me and shared their breast cancer stories with us. I was able to partake in their experience and then minister to them as a few of them shared that they were currently actively battling cancer. When we were on that boat, paddling in sync, you wouldn’t have had any idea of how sick some of those ladies were.
I treasure and value what I gained from spending time with these strangers that day. Their suffering didn’t over shadow the fun of the dragon boating celebration for their teammate. I saw and experience such courage and resilience in this team of ladies. They were a support, comfort, and friend to each other. And they provided a safe space for sharing and embracing each other suffering. So, when I or you need or deserve a break, take it. I/we don’t have to ministerial pour out all the time and neither do you. As pastoral care servant leaders it’s really OK to be poured into. And finally, by the way, I highly recommend the adventure of dragon boating, such a blast!!! Please feel free to share your comments, question, and/or your own experiences, they are very much welcomed here.
Here’s a sneak preview, “Retreat or Retreat!” Until next time.
For the sake of the Chaplain’s healing Call!
Chaplain Jacqueline M. Pressey, Ed.D.,
"Every job is a self-portrait of the person who does it. Autograph your
work with becoming extraordinary, through pursuing EXCELLENCE!"