I had a conversation with a young girl in the hospital yesterday. While hearing the Godly Play story of the Great Family, she was very drawn to the idea of God being everywhere and in every thing. She said to me, "I wonder what God looks like?" and I wondered with her, "What does God look like to you?" I asked. She thought for a moment, then said to me, "A protector."
It was a short conversation, a few sentences exchanged as we sat on a piano bench together. It was short, but powerful. The idea that this girl imagines God as her protector, even though she was hurt, even though she was in the hospital, continues to be powerful to me. God was with her then, is with her now, will be with her in the future, always.
More often, I feel like my job as a chaplain is to witness. It isn't that I say just the right thing that will change a life. The life that is changed most often is mine. I see. I hear. I witness. I am there for moments, short or long, that are pivotal in that person's life. A moment where a family gathers around a beloved child before surgery. A moment where two girls play Just Dance together in a room. A moment where a grandpa just needs someone to talk to while waiting for his granddaughter to get out of surgery. I am not present at these moments to change them. I am present to witness them.
I was reminded yesterday of the parable Jesus tells to his disciples about the lost sheep. It is a parable I frequently tell my kids. When one of his sheep goes missing, the shepherd leaves the other sheep to find the one that has gone missing. He takes the time to step away from the ninety-nine sheep to be with the one. It is a powerful message not only about Jesus the shepherd, but also about the importance of ministering to the one, not only the ninety-nine.
It is easy to get caught up and lost in chaplaincy, in ministry in general. There are so many things happening constantly, and it is easy to look at a list of twenty patients you failed to see, and feel downhearted because of the missed opportunities. But I believe it is important to recognize the one patient you did see. It is vital to recognize the importance of that one visit, of that one moment you witnessed.
On days when the hospital is busy and I only see two or three patients, I try to stop the negative thoughts and think about those two patients. What did we talk about? What did we say? Did we smile? Laugh? Cry? Did they share? Did I listen? What happened in the moments we were together? It is a successful day if I am able to be present for that one sheep who is in need of someone to sit by her side and be a witness to that one moment.
The next time I tell a child the parable of the Good Shepherd, I will remember that girl and our conversation when I talk about the one sheep the shepherd went in search of. I will remember that girl and recall the honor of being witness to that moment in her life.