The most important lesson I ever learned regarding pastoral care took place in a hospital room shared with another young man, an encounter I couldn’t escape beyond a thin curtain between us.
My roommate was hospitalized following the amputation of his leg from a motorcycle accident. One morning he had a visit from a minister who engaged him in very brief, awkward small talk for about 1 minute, then announced his purpose:
“I have come to read you some scriptures, and pray ‘with‘ you” (emphasis mine).
The pastor read several scriptures, then, prayed “at” the young man about the importance of the church and forgiveness of his sins and salvation, in short, his own template of what was most important in this world and the one hereafter.
To his enormous credit, this young man gave this pastor another chance to genuinely connect, and said,
“My uncle said he will help me re-build my motorcycle to put the foot control on the handlebar.”
I heard what he was really saying. The visiting clergy did not. The pastor coldly replied,
“Well, having lost one leg, I would think you would have learned your lesson regarding the danger of motorcycles.”
When the pastor left, the still healing patient lit a cigarette (patients could smoke in rooms in those days), started swearing, and threw his bedpan across the room. I understood why. What he was really seeking with his dream of riding a modified bike again was reassurance: “I hope I can be whole again. I am scared my life might not ever be the same again and I don’t yet know how I can cope with what is ahead.”
I had witnessed a spiritual assault, and it pissed me off too. In the day or so ahead, I was able to listen to his fears, and I hope it helped a wee bit. But I had learned some very valuable lessons on empathy, listening, “being with”, and the suffering caused by anxious self-righteousness.
I also learned, “Don’t use your influence until you have some.”
© 2015 Dr. Daniel L. Baney