"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." John 13:35
"Can you stay a little longer today?"
I looked at the long list of names before glancing at the clock. "I really do have to study, but I can stay one more hour."
I'd been working as a student chaplain at the local hospital for a couple months, observing the other chaplains as they visited patients, then leading out in visits as the chaplains observed me. Now I was transitioning to do visits on my own. On this day, I had just come in for an education seminar at the hospital, but the census was high and so my boss asked me to cover ICU.
After a nice chat with an elderly patient and his wife, I checked the other rooms in ICU, only to discover everyone asleep. I headed over to MedSurg to see where my boss had and had not already visited. I passed by several rooms when--
I stopped and popped my head into the nearest room. "Well, hello Ms. Daniels!"*
Ms. Daniels was one of the first patients I had met when I had begun taking the lead. Apparently she had only been home for a few weeks before having to return to our hospital. I'd loved talking with her last time, but while I had remembered her, I was a little surprised that she had remembered me.
"How are you feeling, Ms. Daniels?"
"Ok, I guess, but I'm just not bouncing back as quick as I usually do. So I'm still here."
We chatted for a while about how she was coping, what support she was getting from friends and from her (non-SDA) church, and what she was anticipating for recovery. Towards the end of our conversation, she mentioned that she had seen the other two chaplains over the last few days she'd been in the hospital. "This is great! Now that I've seen you, I've got the complete set!" she said with a laugh and a smile. "Guess I'm ready to head home now." And she thanked me for the talk.
On another occasion, my boss and I were hosting a Tea for the Soul, an opportunity for employees to take a break, grab some tea, socialize, and ultimately experience some rest. This day we had set up our table for an hour in a large department. Towards the end of our time there, after everyone else had come and gone, an older woman and a college-aged girl approached our table slowly, talking in low voices to one another.
"--religion crammed down my throat my whole life."
"It's just tea," the older woman replied.
I smiled and nodded. "And we won't even cram that down your throat."
They both smiled, and we all continued with conversation, chai, and ginseng. It was nice, but it left me thinking.
Life in such a career would be so much more comfortable and restful if everyone was a Ms. Daniels: eager to converse and share despite a difference in beliefs. But the idea of being perceived or stereotyped as one who crams religion down throats, beats people with Bibles, and bulldozes for Jesus--I find it all rather off-putting, to say the least.
But that is exactly why pursuing such a path can be so critical. Facebook walls and bumper-stickers plastered on cars quote Gandhi's renown saying, "Be the change you want to see in the world." If no one brings the change, then nothing changes. If I don't act in a way to break the mold of the stereotypical chaplain (Bible worker, missionary, pastor, Christian, what-have-you), then the pre-conceived assumptions will persist. And years down the line, there will still be a girl afraid that she will get an unwanted complimentary baptism with her tea.
Jesus said His disciples would be identified by the love they demonstrated for one another. Wouldn't it be something if that was the first characteristic that came to mind about Christians? (I heard a recent survey result ranked "anti-gay" as the most common characteristic attributed to Christianity. This causes my soul to grieve.) Can I say I am known by God's love? Can I say the way I love demonstrates a connection to God? I want the answers to be yes, and I want to live in a way that contributes to a different definition of the word "Christian." Or maybe not a different definition. Maybe just the original definition.
So I guess this is me reaffirming my choices and my desired choices in beliefs, in actions, in career decisions. Gradually, patiently, and repeatedly, God is showing me who I am to be and where I am to go. I may be a slow learner…But at least I'm learning.
*Name changed, of course