The summer I spent as pediatrics hospital chaplain was one of the most transformative few months of my life. I learned that it really is impossible to fall asleep in the on-call room. I learned to have even more respect for nurses, doctors, and the whole network of people it takes to keep a hospital moving. I learned to not take it personally if families took one look at me in my navy blue chaplains’ lab coat and reacted like the grim reaper just walked in the room. I learned how to be present in times of crisis, what not to say in times of loss, and how to trust myself. All the training in the world doesn’t really prepare you for what you’ll feel when the pager goes off at 3 am to let you know that someone is near death and you need to go be with the family, or worse, make the call to get the family to the hospital. The skills are definitely good as back up, but for me at least, this was when I learned what I was made of as a hopeful-pastor-to-be.
As a part of that journey we (the seven other interns and I, along with three residents and a host of staff chaplains) explored the different gifts and hang-ups we each brought to the ministry table. One particular staff chaplain, a man from New Zealand with one of the best accents and best mustaches I have ever seen, warned us from the outset that chaplaincy was a place where we might slay some of our dragons.
I think this is fantastic imagery. We each have gifts for ministry (whether that looks like ministry in a church, hospital, or a job that, on the surface, seems to have nothing at all to do with God). Each of us serves in our relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. And, with a little self-esteem and a little encouragement from others, most of us can name at least a few of our gifts.
But confronting our dragons… that’s a much more intimidating idea. What do I bring to the table that might hinder my ability to creatively and compassionately care for others? What are the things in my past and the traits I carry that I need to face head on and challenge myself to overcome, with God’s help?
Chaplaincy was a great opportunity to face down some of my own dragons – feeling unequal to the task, wondering if I lacked the authority to do this well, being too racked with worry to trust myself. Those dragons weren’t all destroyed that summer, but they all got named and examined. I like to think I took a good run at more than a few.
May we each step out to serve others a little bit braver, a little bit bolder, and a little more honest about who we really are as ministers and as children of God. Dragons, be ye warned.