I never planned to be a chaplain. I never trained for it in the ways that people are supposed to train. I never anticipated it. But in January 2016, I applied for an on-call position. I interviewed. I was hired to start training on February 8.
Here are some of things I’ve learned since then.
- No one knows what I do. People have pictures of long spiritual conversations. We often have rushed prayers, and long searches for next-of-kin. And visiting with family after every death.
- I often don’t know exactly what I’ve done. I can finish a shift, having gone from crisis to crisis to searching for loved ones and not knowing whether it’s really accomplished anything.
- What I remember most from the last three years is the faces of coworkers in very specific moments. I remember patients, of course, but I remember the faces of nurses, techs, respiratory therapists, physicians. And their tears after impossible moments.
- I’m grateful to not have to argue about where the coffeemaker should go. As an executive pastor, we wasted conversational energy on questions like that, convinced that it mattered. I don’t think it does.
- I don’t know how to answer the question, “Do you like your job?” I’m grateful for the opportunity, I’m grateful for the capacity, I’m grateful I can do it. But “like” doesn’t feel quite right.
- I can watch people die. Which is why “Do you like your job?” is a hard question.
- I don’t worry about tearing up when praying with a family. But it’s their grief I’m bearing, not mine.
- My family bears more burden than I realize. And I’m grateful for their encouragement.
- Jesus is already in conversations I know nothing about. I’m not somehow carrying God into a room.
- Being part of a team of chaplains and then of healthcare workers is remarkable.
And tomorrow, I start year eight.
I started a new newsletter last week. “Finding Words in Hard Times” is a newsletter with stories and tools to help you be more comfortable as you help others in hard times. The first issue talks about making space for stories as we help people in loss. I think you’ll find it helpful.
3 thoughts on “7 things (or more) I’ve learned in 7 years as a hospital chaplain.”
Thanks for serving others Jon!
Thanks for being a chaplain for so many of us beyond the walls of the hospital.
Appreciate your thoughts, Jon. I sense you are right where the Lord wants you to be. Maybe “loving” your job is better than liking it! You are showing God’s love!
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