Why I’m a Chaplain; The Urgency of this Moment

I used to float along through life assuming I had eighty or so years to be the person I wanted to be, and do the things I wanted to do. When the awakening sliced me to the core, that there was NO guarantee of my ignorant and illusory timeline, I woke up. The truth, I learned, is that we only have this moment now; we aren’t even guaranteed an hour from now. I was a plan-maker, dreaming of what I’d do next year, next summer, when I was older. Big plans! But those plans are just that and nothing more. Those
plans were a vacuous vapor, leading me to more emptiness. What I’d conceived in my brain was virtually fruitless because this second really is all we have. When you lose someone close to you in a flash, you change.

The little things are really insignificant. Things I used to think about just don’t matter to me anymore. Stressing out about non-consequential things, things that don’t carry any weight in the grand scheme of life, is no longer applicable on the radar. The shift meant I had to become proactive about actively and consciously living in a state of giving. It was injected into my brain and heart that I had to make a difference in this world, and let go of junk that did not matter. Stuff was just that…stuff. Old attitudes about former fleeting priorities vanished. Life, all of a sudden, really mattered in a gigantic way. I hadn’t been an active, vital participant in showing and sharing my heart with others. And I knew I had to reroute my road and get a new path.

So I flipped my life script and enrolled in Divinity School to become a chaplain. In forty years, chaplaincy had never popped up as a life goal, or career idea. After an unfortunate encounter with a less-than-considerate chaplain, I acquired the notion I could quite possibly be kinder than he was…perhaps I could do that job, and do it well, and give my heart all day every day. In the most harrowing moment of pain and loss, my one experience with a chaplain was negative and hurtful. I felt dismissed, like my questions leaving my mouth in that hallway did not matter. I wanted answers for why my young husband and my son’s Daddy died. I wanted this chaplain-person, whoever he was, to be there in empathy and sympathy. I really wanted his help. Maybe I was asking too much of him. But I don’t think so, because I know now as a chaplain, I will sit and listen to anyone in pain. I will never be dismissive, and I will never view it as “just a job.” So, about two years later, I had this mental bird pecking at the back of my brain. It was telling me to be a chaplain.

I didn’t know squat about chaplains, or what they did, or that it was even an actual position, much less a paying one. We had them in our social clubs in college, and that’s all I’d heard of the term until the hospital encounter. Little did I know, they are in schools, corporations, the military, hospitals, politics….there are many places for chaplains. Someone I know worked at Tyson Chicken as a chaplain. Then I discovered Congress has a chaplain. Once I started researching, I began to see this thing had many legs. But my heart was always with the hospital setting because of what I experienced. That became my mission, a mission which still stands, and is only growing more fervent by the day. So, having just completed my first year of graduate school, I am beginning my summer internship just outside of Boston.

My only regret is that it took me four decades to understand that giving of myself to and for others was not a task, but an honor. Life has pulled me into a current I certainly never expected. All I know to do in the waters I’m in is to make the best of them…swim or drown. I’m not going to drown, because I’m’ way too persistent and dogged to quit. So I’m going to swim. I’m going to swim my way into these people’s lives, and give one hundred-percent care and compassion for who they are. This is not about
me. This is about who God had already made me to be. I just had to listen.

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  1. Heather, welcome to the corps of chaplains! My route there was very different from yours, and not one I would recommend. At the age of 55 I was recruited by the board of Church of Christ Care Center, a Long Term Care facility near Detroit. I had a very fulfilling 10 1/2 year tenure there until my retirement. Now I volunteer in an assisted living facility near where my father is in a LTC home.

    I wish you well in your new career. I just wish I had more formal training as a chaplain. It would have made my work easier and better. Congratulations to you on getting the training!