Meeting Fellow Journeyers
JULY 31, 2016 / LSELLISBLOG
Note: Laura Ellis served as an intern at Lifeline Chaplaincy Houston in summer, 2016.
I truly love my job this summer. I get be a part of something
beautiful. I am often invited in on the most intimate moments of
people’s lives. I get to share in their vulnerability, pain,
frustration, joy, and hope. I get to meet people from all different
walks of lives and hear a part of their story. These moments are
precious, and they are sacred.
Sometimes however people are less than willing to open up even
after they are handed the talking stick. I have to be honest, not
every person I visit feels the urge to reach for the boxes of tissues,
because they are so touched by the incredible conversation that
we had. Some people invite me in, and then we interact in a few
moments of uncomfortable small talk until it is evident that my
time to leave has come. Patients are constantly bombarded by
people who storm into their not so private space at any and all
hours, and some do not want a chaplain added to that list. Some
patients are in the hospital for quick check ups, and do not need
spiritual guidance in their less than dire hour of need. Most all of
these patients however are polite.
There have been a few patients though, who were not so cordial. I
was doing rounds on my normal floor, following the normal
protocol of what rooms to visit first. It was a routine day. I had
seen a couple people already when I walked into her room. I have
a bit of a litany of an introduction, one that includes the words, “I
Sacred Spaces: Encountering God in the Unexpected
am one of the chaplains here.” Once I said these words however,
the reaction of this particular patient was far from anything I was
Before this summer I got my hair cut for the sole reason that I
thought shorter hair makes you look older. As it is I look like I am
- Maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. I used to
work in a middle school, and one day a teacher stopped me in the
hall and asked what class I was supposed to be in. So I was really
hoping the haircut would at least make me appear that I legally
drove myself to the hospital. For someone who was planning on
playing the role of spiritual caregiver to people usually much
older than myself, I could take all the help I could get. Sadly this
haircut had the opposite effect that I was hoping for. I went from
being 15 to 12 in a matter of a few quick snips. It is possible that I
am being mildly dramatic, but not by much.
Some of the people I visit are acutely aware of my youth. Some of
them even comment on it. Many are excited that someone so
young is interested in hospital ministry. Some seem a little
skeptical. But almost everyone comes around in the end.
My age is something essential to my being that I do not have
much control over, and I had grown accustom to people asking
about it. For some people, there was another elephant in the room
about an aspect of myself that they do not like to see in a minister.
Most people do not mind it, but on that routine day I met
someone who did.
I entered the room and introduced myself as a chaplain to the
elderly white haired woman in the bed. She sat up abruptly,
furrowed her brow, and snarled her upper lip into a face. “You’re
what?” she spat out. I moved closer to her bed and explained
again who I was and why I was there. I thought maybe she did
not understand or hear clearly what I said the first time.
“No. You’re not a chaplain,” she said with wide eyes.
This was a new one for me. I was unsure of what to say in
response. Fortunately, or unfortunately as it was, the woman
filled the empty quiet space for me. She spent the next 5 minutes
informing that I could not be a chaplain because I was a woman.
She told me that she knew the church was changing, but she did
not know it had fallen so far. She was very clear of her disgust on
the subject. She was even generous enough to back up her belief
with Bible verses, which I found very thoughtful of her to really
go the extra mile.
The only comfort she took in our visit, was finding out that I did
not preach sermons or lead my own church. Even though she
became slightly less hostile, I honestly was still pretty eager to get
out of room. I asked my typical parting question about whether
there was anything I could do for her. In my panic, I made the
terrible mistake of mentioning prayer.
“You cannot pray for me,” she said with a laugh as if I had told
the world’s funniest knock knock joke.
This was an incredibly alarming visit for me. As a religion major, I
am used to being in the all-boys club. Up until this point however,
my arguments for women in ministry against someone who
believed differently were always theoretical. The person I was
debating was not attacking me, but an idea. This encounter
however was a personal rejection, and I have to say I did not
enjoy the way it felt.
Even though every fiber of my defensive self screamed to fight
back, and to insist to this 70 year old woman that my beliefs were
right and hers were wrong, I knew that debating would be
incredibly harmful to the visit. More importantly, it might have
been harmful for her relationship with God.
Rejection sucks. I’m certainly not pretending that it doesn’t. I am
slightly disappointed by the fact that I was not able to have a
meaningful conversation with her. And I am incredibly annoyed
by the fact that if I were male, that conversation might have
But here’s the slightly hard to swallow truth. The truth is that her
understanding of a woman’s role in the church went against my
belief system. The truth is that I wanted nothing more than to
offer my well-rehearsed counter argument. The truth is that her
words personally offended me a little bit. But the truth is that her
beliefs did not harm her relationship with God. And the truth is
that my belief system did not really matter in the situation,
because ministry is not about me.
During training, we were taught to come alongside and meet
someone where they are. This stranger and I were not in the same
place. But as I stood in that dimly lit cookie cutter hospital room
trying to pick my mouth up off the ground at her blatant rejection
of my well-meaning attempts to care for her, I was reminded of
why I was there. It was my job to meet her where she was in her
journey. As much as I wanted to drag her over to where I was on
my personal path, I realized that desire would only appease what
I wanted. The difficulty, yet beauty of our calling to genuinely
love others, is that it is selfless. Or at least it is supposed to be.
May we embrace the people we encounter by meeting them
exactly where they are on their unique life journey. Not to
judge, or to correct, or to pull them over to our own shiny path,
but to meet them where they are as a fellow journeyer and to
ask, “Can I walk with you for a bit?” And let God do the rest.