Ask The Chaplain: “How do you DO this?”

I spent some time recently with a friend who had gone through and come out of a serious health storm. She shared her exhaustion, her left-over fears from the experience, and most of all, her incredible awareness of how much of a difference prayer and spiritual support can make.

We talked about how, even though her outcome was “positive,” that she worried about going through something like that again. I think she wanted me to say, “Oh, yeah. You’re done. Just once in this life do you go through something like that.”

But that’s not what I said.

I shared with her how I find comfort in Christ’s words:

“I’ve said these things to you so that you will have peace in me.
In the world you have distress.
But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)

These are words that, at first glance, don’t give a whole lot of comfort. “In the world you will have distress.” Really? REALLY? Well. Yeah.

But there is a connection here between peace and distress – both are realities for me. I can experience peace. I can most definitely experience distress. And I can have peace in the midst of distress. But only by knowing that my rocking, bobbing (and sometimes sinking) boat is watched over by God.

She looked at me and said, “How do you DO this? This chaplain stuff? People dying. People getting cancer. Babies born too soon. Car accidents. I mean… I just can’t do it.”

I’m not gonna lie. Some days it’s hard. Some on-calls are emotionally brutal. Especially when, being a caregiver and pastor down to my toes, I want to continue to do this for everyone, all the time, every where. Even to the detriment of my own spiritual and emotional health. And it’s not good.
Jo Hilder calls it “burnt toast” syndrome, and in a recent blog post on self-care said it this way:

I had to learn it was important for me to take the “freshest piece of toast” more often, and leave the burnt one for someone else, because sometimes others need to learn when to put someone else’s wants and needs before theirs. I also needed to make my own happiness and comfort a priority as well as that of my family and friends, and stop seeing personal sacrifice and self-denial as noble, or a sign of my love. Teaching others to respect my health and happiness wasn’t wrong, and allowing the people in my life to experience disappointment or inconvenience as I moved myself up my list of personal priorities wasn’t selfish or bad.

I’ve learned to let myself grieve. To light a candle, pray, cry and sometimes shake my fist at God and say, “WHY?” And then to say, “I trust You.”

I’ve learned to take my “holy nap time” (the hours after I come off call) seriously. My on-call hours might be over at 8 in the morning, but there is nothing on the calendar until about 2 or 3 in the afternoon. (And even then, I’m seriously exhausted and need to watch what I agree to do.)

But most importantly, I’ve been learning how to see the things that grieve MY heart as grieving God’s heart too.

This afternoon as I did some chores and got ready for the rest of my week, I listened to the song “Hosanna” by Hillsong. And these words rang true.

Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like You have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks Yours
Everything I am for Your Kingdom’s cause
As I walk from earth into eternity

Hosanna, Hosanna
Hosanna in the highest

I’m not gonna lie. The days with the broken heart hurt. A lot. Tears come and there’s not much I can do but wait, pray, and cry. (Old chaplain trick for the teary days and nights: Puffs with aloe and lotion. And yes, cucumber slices. From your grocery’s salad bar.)

How do I DO this chaplain thing?

Some days, it’s a joy and a heart-soaring experience. Some days, it’s a valley of tears. Some days I have incredible insights. Some days I bungle it horribly. And always, always, ALWAYS… it’s God.

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