Be Helpful? A Lesson from Chaplain Internship—and More

A Year of Being Kind blog – Saturday, September 27, 2014

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Be Helpful? A Lesson from Chaplain Internship—and More

I feel strongly about chaplaincy. One of the foundation stones for my whole ministry is that of pastoral care, ministry of presence, and journeying alongside of those who are hurting in any way. I have spent more than ten years in the ministry of chaplaincy, in a variety of settings. And, I’ve spent a goodly portion of these years serving in internships, as well.

Today, I was vividly reminded of a situation where I needed some advice. Some discernment. I couldn’t help but be reminded of several times in the past, in my various chaplain internships. I have been blessed in my internships, in three different clinical settings. All three have involved cohesive, collaborative groups of interns. I understand from others that not every group is so fortunate. So, I do consider myself blessed by the groups. In addition, I was blessed even more with my chaplain supervisors! Each one, though different from each other, was effective, supportive, and engaging to the interns separately, as well as in the group.

I thought of a specific instance in my latest chaplain internship unit, at a downtown hospital in Chicago. Chaplain Peter was our supervisor, and he directed and facilitated the group with a light hand. Yet—he was present. Very present to all of us. To each of us. He led by compassionate, loving example, and I learned to take cautions and negative comments as well as positive ones, contain them, prayerfully consider them, and seriously and objectively take them to heart.

Not that I hadn’t had some experience and direction at how to take correction as well as compliments before, in chaplaincy, in various internships, and just in life, in general. But with Chaplain Peter, both the clinical and the classroom learning seemed upped to a graduate level and beyond. Serious learning! No kindergarten-level learning there.

My mind drew a direct parallel between that learning experience and a situation today. I got a long distance telephone call out of the clear blue sky, and even when I hung up, I was in a quandary. Really, earnestly puzzled at what to do. I wondered and thought and prayed. Still needed assistance and advice. I turned to a Facebook page where a number of women ministers, clergy, chaplains and other women of faith join together in support, camaraderie and fellowship. (This is an international group, too!) I have been following this page for some months, and I noted the wide-ranging and varied comments were often helpful, sometimes pointed, and always informative.

All right, I thought. I am really in a quandary. So—I posted a brief explanation of the telephone call. I asked for comments, suggestions, even advice. And, boy! Did I get a response! In a matter of minutes, I received so many helpful, informative comments and suggestions.

I was suddenly, vividly reminded of what I learned, sitting in that chaplain’s classroom in downtown Chicago. I was moved to take these current cautions and comments as well as positive ones, contain them, prayerfully consider them, and seriously and objectively take them to heart. Just so, God tied these two situations together in my mind. What a moving connection. Thanks, God. Help me take these comments and suggestions I received tonight to heart, sincerely. As sincerely as these were offered.


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Showing Love by Active Listening

A Year of Being Kind blog – Thursday, February 20, 2014

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - "Swing Time"

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – “Swing Time”

Showing Love by Active Listening

I went to the gym again today. I didn’t have much time, but I started my workout anyhow. Gray, wet sloppy day outside, good day for staying inside. I happened to run into a workout friend while exercising. She and I fell into a conversation. Or rather, she talked more, and I listened. She had some genuine concerns, and I was happy to be of service. Service by listening—showing encouragement and support.

That’s one of the things I’ve been trained to do. Active listening—with an ear to hear primarily spiritual and emotional concerns, but also psychological and physical concerns, as well.  And sometimes, people just want to get things off their chests. I suspected this situation today was more like that. As a chaplain, I strive to listen to the best of my ability. In addition, I can try to be fully present with another person; this is a wonderful gift I can bring to them. People often rush here and there, in a hurry. Going too fast. No time to lose! But chaplaincy has a different orientation. Chaplaincy, by its very nature, takes its time. Slows down. Lowers anxiety and stress. Oh, yeah. Prays sometimes, too.

I have listened to individuals talk for some time. I mean, full range of emotions, from grief to anger to despair to joy. They earnestly share what is going on and where they are in their lives. And then—sometimes—their eyes connect with mine. “Thank you. Thanks for listening.” Then I might smile and say something like, “No problem,” or “I see how much that helped you,” or even “I hope that lightened your heart/spirit.” (depending on the religious orientation of my companion, of course)

Listening with an open mind and a non-judgmental spirit can be a challenge, though. I know I sometimes struggle with doing it! I know I can’t stay consistent. But I keep trying. Like the Dorothy Fields/Jerome Kern song “Pick Yourself Up” from the Fred Astaire movie “Swing Time.” The lyrics I’m thinking of go like this: “I pick myself up, brush myself off, start all over again.”

Fred Astaire—actor in musical comedies of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, and one of the finest dancers in the 20th century in any genre —makes a fine example for me to follow. He always, always tried his hardest to excel at dancing. He kept trying, practicing, doing the steps or routines over and over and over again, until he made the most intricate or difficult steps look effortless.

God, is that what You want from me? Do You desire that I keep practicing active listening? Practice being fully present? Practice my craft, keep working at these chaplain’s skills again and again until they appear effortless?

(What about you? Where do you need to practice? How can you strive to listen to God?)

What a goal to shoot for! God willing, I’ll keep practicing.