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.
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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).