I’m just beginning my fourth week of my summer adventure of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education), and I’m beginning to see that my ideas about ministry are being beautifully changed. I began the summer thinking that I needed to be an awesome chaplain (think about Rob Bell’s image of “super pastor” in Velvet Elvis!) who always knew the right things to say, who could wax eloquent about deep theological truths, and was empathetic, warm and caring. Well, those are all good things, for sure, but they’re not very realistic – particularly the first two. Sometimes the words don’t come and sometimes people don’t want to discuss religion or God at all. Sometimes, it’s been a long day and you’re not as empathetic or responsive as you’d like to be.

Once I started doing visits, I realized that a lot of people just wanted a listening ear – someone who was willing to listen non-judgmentally. Believe me, I was greatly relieved to discover this! However, as I’ve been making my rounds and encountering wonderful people, I’ve stumbled upon another truth. What is this truth? It’s that the people I visit often give me incredible gifts of wisdom and encouragement. Some people have even prayed for me! Frequently, I find myself walking away from encounters thinking “wow – that person was incredibly inspiring to me,” or “wow – I learned so much from that person,” or even, “that person ministered to me.” I feel like every meeting, no matter how long, has left a mark on my life and has taught me something.

My supervisor asked us in class how open we were to receiving these gifts and ministry from other people. It’s a great question and one I’ve been thinking about a lot. Some people find it very easy to serve and to give of themselves to others, which is a wonderful gift, but the flip side is that they may not really know how to receive these same gifts from others. I think this is a particular struggle for people in the so-called “helping fields.”

People need to be open to receiving the gifts others have to offer for two reasons I can see right now. First of all, it’s good self-care. When you open yourself to humbly accept someone’s ministry, you are allowing someone to care for you. We all need help and support from time to time – why not accept it? Second, it also allows the person bestowing the gift a chance to offer something to another person. The giver is able to share a talent or a lesson learned and to pass that on to someone else. Helping people also feels good! It makes the giver feel like they are able to contribute, which can also help build their sense of worth.

I am amazed every day that people who were strangers only minutes before can become dispensers of wisdom and ministers to me, the chaplain. The priesthood of all believers is a humbling and moving reminder that all can be bearers of God’s light and love to others if only we are open to receive the precious gift they extend to us.

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

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