Walking into a new home every few days can be a daunting experience. Who will be there? What kind of place is it? Are they going to be “normal?” Do I have to take a shower and shake out my clothes once I walk out the door? Hundreds of questions run through my brain. Thankfully, I haven’t been in too many homes which require coveralls, booties and/or masks due to bug infestations, animal feces/urine or airborne illnesses. Those have been few and far between.
The things which catch me off guard more often than not tend to come to light during conversation. Take today’s for example. What started off as a somewhat normal chat quickly moved to the realm of not quite right when the wife of one of my patients was explaining to me her belief in how a certain race of people were created. She had received this knowledge from a grandparent many years ago, and wanted to share it with me, since it encompassed religious figures. To her, my being a chaplain meant I had to be interested, and because I had not been able to answer her question of, “Chaplain, do you know how _______ people were created?” she eagerly wanted to impart her knowledge to me.
What followed was the story of an Old Testament prophet, a drunken party, nudity, Jesus banishing someone to the desert and the eventual creation of said race. I was hoping my astonishment was not showing on my face, and I responded, “Thank you for sharing that with me.” As I looked around at each person sitting with me, it was clear they all believed the story and had heard it numerous times. I, on the other hand, was left wondering how something that was clearly taken out of context from scripture could be so misconstrued.
As conversation continued, it was clear there was a distinct difference in this family’s faith beliefs from my own. That is perfectly ok, mind you, I have no issue or concern with others beliefs. But sometimes I have serious concerns when said beliefs are coupled with other, more concrete or in the moment happenings. The totality of this visit included grave concern for a military happening which occurred today overseas, and the family’s interpretation of what that could mean for them. I felt the military action did not impact me directly, at least not in the immediate and literal sense, but this family spent time discussing it as is terrorists could be knocking on the door at any moment in retaliation. This realization hit me hard, and I understood once again how different people are.
I recognized that my faith beliefs are just different enough to where conversation with this family may turn toward an area that could cause discord. I decided then and there to limit the amount of information I would provide when questions are asked. For my health and safety, I need to keep my personal faith out of discussions. I am generally forthcoming when asked about my faith, because I feel honesty is better when forming a bond with patients. In this case though, I feel things would turn sideways quickly.
Every person should have the opportunity for support from others when they are faced with an illness and/or end of life issues. That is why I am there, and I am honored to be able to provide it. The practicality of it though is this: I have no idea what I am walking into when I enter a home, and I need to make sure I do the best I can for the patient I am seeing. Sometimes that means sharing more of myself when the time is right, and sometimes that means not sharing anything at all. Today was a time for the latter. I trust God will guide me through my patient visits, putting into my heart and mind exactly what I need to do to be a comfort to those I meet. Today’s comfort was about listening and affirming this family’s beliefs. Tomorrow’s may be about something all together different, and for that, I am thankful God will once again be with me.
Peace to you all!