December 17, 2017

One of My Favorite Cases

A few years ago, I was involved in a unique chaplaincy situation with a patient and family that combined two of my greatest loves: pastoral care and Cubs baseball. It illustrates one of the basic principles I try to follow in pastoral ministry —

Take interest in the interests of those you are trying to serve.

 The following video was done by our health network so that I could tell the story.

 

* * *

The video doesn’t fully capture the spiritual result of our relationship. On one of my last visits, I had gone outside for awhile to talk with the patient’s wife about funeral plans while her family tended to his needs. When we came back in and I was getting ready to depart, he looked up at me from the bed and said, “It’s time.”

“Time for what?” I asked.

“Time for you to pray for me,” he replied.

This man, who had not wanted a chaplain in the first place, who had never wanted to broach the subject of his relationship with God, who had simply wanted me to come and talk about baseball with him, now expressed his desire to have me commit him into God’s care and bless him before he died. His wife’s eyes opened wide and she looked at me with her mouth open and tears glistening. I went to the foot of the bed, we held hands, and I committed my friend to the Lord.

The next time I saw him was the encounter described in the video. The funny thing about this entire case is — I really didn’t do a thing. The patient and family called all the shots. I just made visits and talked about baseball. They befriended me, brought up every discussion topic, came up with all the ideas, and led me all the way. And it wasn’t my bright idea to call the Cubs, either; the whole thing came out of a sleepless night! And the logistics of having everything work out so perfectly was absolutely beyond my control.

To be honest, I just think I was along for the ride.

I wrote the following in a letter of thanks to the Cubs organization:

In the big scheme of things, so people say, sports like baseball don’t amount to much. In the face of terminal illness, death and loss, what’s so important about a silly game? I have a different perspective, because I watched a dying man take comfort, encouragement, and joy in one of life’s simple pleasures, and it helped sustain him. It gave his family, friends, and caregivers a context in which they could share friendship, enjoyment, and love. I feel especially blessed, for it gave me a chance to make a friend who grew to trust me enough to pray for him.

Thank you for what you do. And thank you for taking the time to reach out to encourage my friends. It may seem small and relatively unspectacular, but as a wise one once said, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love” (Mother Teresa).

Comments

  1. Great story, Chaplain Mike, and I enjoyed seeing and hearing you in the video. Thanks for posting this!

  2. This was really neat- thanks for sharing. Posts like this have helped me to see that you can combine common sense and people skills in the pursuit of faith:) thank you for that.

  3. For many years I worked as an addictions counselor and I frequently sensed that God was only inviting me along for the ride to see what God could do. I was given a great gift in having the privilege to witness the work of the Holy Spirit in transforming a life and was given the gift of seeing some of God’s greatest work being accomplished in my presence. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story.

  4. Thanks for that Mike. I have a neighbor who has been diagnosed with end stage asthma and has 6 months, at the most, to live, and I have been at a loss on how to conduct myself while visiting since we have become friendly the past few years.

    He and his wife are great people, but not overtly spiritual, and I have been wondering if I would get a chance to bring up a spiritual discussion. Now, from your testimony, I can see that it’s best to let the neighbor take the lead. He already knows that I am a Christian.

    They have already agreed with Hospice to come daily to help with Michael’s meds and personal hygiene issues, and even are allowing a chaplain to visit on occasion. I just hope that he/she is as sensitive as you have proved to be, and if the Lord so determines perhaps I can play a small part in Michaels last journey.

  5. Chaplain Mike:

    What a beautiful story. Jeff Cook, who lectures on philosophy at Northern Colorado has written a post about “Wanting God to exist is more important than believing in God.” In the article, he posits that apologetics and evangelism in general are often misguided because right thinking is held up as a more valuable target than one’s hopes or desires. As such, some Christians routinely make God look cruel or arbitrary when making their seemingly-valid theological points—but there defacing of God’s reputation is overlooked because as a community we hold that the beliefs of our interlocutors are more important than their yearning for God.

    Cook also states that such displays of God are massive failures, for the way truth is presented matters. Truths without deep care for our audience are clanging cymbals that produce nothing. You have very eloquently modeled this by the way you treated your friend during his last days and through your example allowing his yearning to manifest itself into commitment. Well done, sir, well done…………..

  6. I don’t mean to be a shoehorner but I’m going to squeeze in some grace/law here. That is grace, absent law. No compulsion, no force. Christ, existential and orchestrating, is the pure joy of the story. Thank you CM for living in Christ. Put this post in the dictionary under Christianity.

  7. Thank you for sharing both the video and the additional back story. It was truly lovely.

  8. Friendship – what a novel idea! A few years ago a friend gave me a copy of David Hansen’s book ‘The Art of Pastoring’ (I’m not a pastor). It is filled with stories like this. Hansen, who was a rural pastor in the Bitterroot valley in Montana, describes his job as making friends and going fishing (and marvels that people pay him to do that). Maybe it’s just that simple (sometimes). He says, ‘Hospital visitation is an act of friendship. . . . Good chaplains know how to become a friend.’ Good job, Chaplain Mike.

  9. Steve Newell says:

    Pain, suffering and death is all a result of our sin and the Fall. Death is not natural since death is the result of sin. Our hope is in the Resurrection upon Christ’s return when there is a new Heaven and a new Earth.

    With my family, we have experienced the pain of a child with a brain injury due to soccer in PE class with no certainty if he will be completely healed and how to cope with the limitations. My wife and I don’t understand how this could happen and why God doesn’t heal him completely. The pat American “evangelical” response is that we don’t have enough faith is painful.

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your son, Steve. I will join you in prayer…but it’s good to remember that St Paul and Trophimus left Miletum sick (2Tim 4:20) and he was a man of great faith who wasn’t healed immediately. And, Luke was a physician by trade, and it’s logical to believe he practiced medicine on his missionary journeys. I hope you can ignore those pat answers-there’s nothing godly about them. God bless you and your wife with strength, courage and wisdom through these trying times.

  10. David Cornwell says:

    I did not have a chance to view this video until this evening. Through it I was constantly thankful that you were this man’s chaplain. God is present in all that we do. He was most certainly present with you and with him in this last stage of his life. Love is very evident. Thank you for giving him this holy care.

  11. So very moving. Thank you, CM, for bring His hands and feet.

  12. I’ve always said God is a Cubs fan. Well, this proves it.

  13. Only wanna tell that this is extremely helpful, Thanks for taking your time to write this.