Having finished 5 weeks of being a clinical pastoral education student aka a chaplain intern, I've learned that most of my conversations with people involve me having one goal and one goal only.
If you think that it's to convert all people so that they are saved by Jesus, you would be....CORRECT! That's what all good Christian chaplains should want to do in order to get into heaven.
Ok let me stifle the vomit that is wanting to come out because of my poor taste in jokes.
As a chaplain, I encounter people at a time in their lives in which they feel helpless and scared. These feelings move straight into reactions, such as anger or tears or withdrawal. My purpose is to support these people by giving them a space to breathe in the emotions that are coursing through their veins. My job is to be a mirror for these people that interprets the emotions behind the words of their stories so that their response to what I have said is along the lines of "Exactly!" or "Oooh yes" or "Definitely!"
As a chaplain, I don't want people to remember my name or think of me as someone important in their lives, but rather come face to face with their emotions and feel as if they can understand themselves better because someone out there was listening and empathizing with their story. I have the privilege of being with people in the terrifying moments; the bits of time that blur in our heads because our hearts fill up with fear. I see my job as being a reflector of emotions so that people can pulse through the fear and be able to move back into a balance of their heart and head.
I find myself 5 weeks into CPE and it is heart wrenching to be doing such personal growth work in verbatims, interpersonal group time, and supervisory sessions. Yet there is this wonderful balance in which I get to experience precious moments of raw emotions in myself, peers, and patients/families/staff that I encounter. I breathe empathy; it pours out of me when I am with patients and their family members. It isn't difficult for me to pinpoint emotions and reflect them back. I know that this gift is not mine; God holds it in my heart and keeps it there for me to be able to best support others. I am grateful and proud to be a messenger of love, grace, and peace. I have my own judgements, insecurities, and pain that can keep me from being a messenger sometimes and I will be working on my growing edges. But the time is now to bask in my gifts because here is my calling. I am meant to do this work.
5 weeks ago, I would fight myself to get my body into that hospital because I felt so terrible about being there. I dreaded walking into the rooms of patients and baring my soul and vulnerabilities while presenting a verbatim (discussion on a pastoral care conversation that I have had with a patient/family member). After that first week, I feel as if I have blossomed. I love walking into Nationwide Children's and I treasure the moments I have with the people that enter that place as staff, patients, or loved ones. I have gifts of ministry that I utilize every day whether I am aware of those gifts or not. I am doing the work that I am being shaped to do.
Right now, I feel my calling in my bones. I didn't realize how much I had lost that feeling while studying in seminary this year. That loss of feeling my call had been terrifying me and leaving me feeling empty a lot of days (also something I didn't know until I felt it again). My soul is affirmed. I am here to go out into the world with my heart, hands, and mouth to be with others.
Which is why I spend a chunk of my days introducing myself to strangers: "Hello, my name is Kaitlin and I am here as a chaplain to be an emotional and spiritual support. I am here to hear how things are doing for you." Words and/or silence is exchanged, and those words that remind me of why I am there are beckoning to be blurted out by that other person's mouth: "Exactly. Oooh yes. Definitely."
And that makes me feel quite fulfilled. :)