"Everything's going to be okay."
"Don't worry, it'll all work out."
"It'll get better, just be patient."
"Just trust in God and it'll all be okay."
I hear these phrases all the time. They are what you say when something terrible has happened. They're what automatically comes out of your mouth when you don't know what to say. They are meant to comfort, to support. Maybe you believe them; maybe you don't. Until I worked at as a hospital chaplain, these were the phrases that fell from my mouth when things went wrong for friends. "It'll be okay," I said. "It'll all work out." And I think I believed those words. After all, there were very few times that I'd seen things not work out for my friends. Why wouldn't I trust that things would work out this time?
After a few weeks as a chaplain, my thoughts on this changed. Suddenly, I stopped saying "It'll be okay," to the patients and their families. I stopped promising that "Everything will work out." Because I didn't know. I couldn't make a promise like that. Telling these things to families was not comforting them or supporting them. It was lying. It was ignoring the problem. It was ignoring the reality of the world we live in, which is that things do not always work out. People get hurt and do not recover. Children get sick and do not get better. Families break apart. Pregnancies end in loss. Sometimes, things do not get better.
I didn't really believe in miracles before I became a chaplain. I subscribed to the "every tree/puppy/baby is a miracle" belief. I read about "miracles" in the news and thought "Well, that's pretty amazing...but is it a miracle?" It didn't seem like the miracles of the Bible.
My thoughts on miracles have changed, too. I've met parents of a child born at 24 weeks who was happy and healthy. I've met babies who weren't supposed to last a week, but who have gotten stronger and stronger as the months have passed. I've met parents who haven't lost hope after months of living in the hospital with their child. I've met children who, despite scoliosis, spina bifida, amputated limbs, etc. are smiling and happy. They are the ones who make me happy when I go into their room. These are miracles.
Families ask me to pray for miracles. Some are simply asking - and why not? There is no harm in asking God for a miracle. Others sit, refusing to believe that their child will not recover because God will provide a miracle. I admire the faith of these people, but I mourn for them.
A year into life as a chaplain, my beliefs and my words have changed. When I see a family struggling through their child's illness or traumatic injury, I reach out and pray with them. I pray for strength, for guidance, for healing. I thank God for the care given to the child by the hospital staff. I thank God for the child, for the joy he or she brings to their family. But I do not promise the family that everything will be okay, because it is a promise I cannot keep. It is a promise that only God can make, for only God can keep it.
I believe in miracles. I do not expect them. If we expected them, they would not be miracles.