A page to the Behavioral Health section of the EMD- an anxious, upset patient, who is not in need of inpatient care. I’m told she seems to be having a crisis involving faith-maybe the chaplain can help her. I arrive and the nurse begins explaining, “This woman came in and she’s upset and shaking and crying. She looks exhausted. She keeps saying she has committed a sin, but she says she can only talk to a saved Christian. She asked me if I am one and since I won’t answer her she tells me I can’t understand. She can only talk to a saved Christian. I tried naming all of the really big sins and she says it isn’t any of those. Who knows. She’s in there (pointing to one of the rooms). (The doctor comes out of the room, shaking his head, rolling his eyes. The nurse tells him that I am the chaplain. He speaks to me sarcastically. ) “Good luck! Maybe you’ll get farther than I did. Who knows? ! ( he saunters off irritated).” The nurse says, “She’s nice. We told her we could give her an antidepressant. She refused it. We’re discharging her, but you can talk to her here for awhile. (I knock and enter the room.)” She looks up with tear streaked face. “ I’m Carolyn, one of the chaplains here. I heard you wanted to talk to someone, May I join you?” She assents. She is crying and wrapped in a blanket, hunched over. Her hair is pulled back, but a couple defiant strands have come undone and are loose around her face. She is an African American woman in her 30’s. She looks at me with tired eyes and then puts her head down. I pull up a chair facing her and sit down. I ask “what’s going on? You seem troubled.” She puts her head in her hands.” I’ve sinned..I don’t even know where to start. “ “ Take your time. You can start anywhere.”
Her husband is in jail.. has been for a while now. In and out of jail. (she tells me his record).He’s on work release and she has to take him to work construction early and then she watches her grandkids for my daughter who works 6 to 6. Then she picks up her husband and gets him back to the prison. It is a lot to do. “ An’ I’m just tired, you know? I’m worn out an’ I just can’t do it no more.” She’s been doing this for years now. It’s been a long time and a lot to do.“ And I’m trying. An’ I went to my pastor because I needed to talk and he rebuked me! He said I was committing a sin.” ( crying) The sin? He told her she was committing the sin of selfishness. “Well, I believe, you know, that pastors speak the Word to us. They can rebuke us if a person needs it… he told me that I have to be strong for my family and for my husband. My husband has been an addict. I used to be too. He’s been doin’ OK. And I want him to stay clean. My pastor told me if I quit doing all this my husband might backslide on account of me. That if my husband backslides it will be because of my selfishness. That God will hold me accountable in the judgment.” It is up to her; if her husband backslides, it is on her. God will judge her.
“ I don’t mean any disrespect to your pastor, but it seems like you’re not sure if it really is all up to you. Does it seem right to you?” She is not sure. She tells me she knows she has been selfish in other ways and the pastor, he knows.“ Are you sure I am not keeping you from your job?” I look her in the eye and tell her this is my job. “I can stay as long as you need.” Previously she and the pastor had a tiff she thinks is connected. “See we were supposed to go to a ball game with the pastor and his wife. And they got the tickets, but then we couldn’t go and we had to pay them for the tickets. I got some money but I didn’t use it to pay him all at once I paid it over awhile. And he got mad and said I was selfish. ..I used the money for things we needed and I did get it all paid back, just not right away. But that was selfish of me, I accepted that rebuke. I think that he is holding that against me. But I don’t know. “ “ Do you really think you are being selfish? It almost sounds like you’re expected to be perfect.” She responds,“ I need to be a good Christian.”
After awhile I ask, “ You’ve told me a lot of what you are doing. How about your husband?” She shakes her head, “He’s not doin’ much.” So I wonder,“ You are trying to be a good Christian, but can you be good enough for two people?” She pauses. “ Not really.”“ How does it feel to have to work that hard? Besides tired, how else do you feel?” And the tears roll. “ Angry. !” She is angry at her husband. When I ask what she would say to him if he was here, she sits more erectly, almost bristling and proclaims, “ I’d say ,’you need to straighten up and come home and be the man you’re supposed to be!’” How was that to say that? “ It felt good. Mmhmm.”This is what she had shared with her pastor and is that when he told her about the sin of selfishness. Preaching overfunctioning as a virtue. She is just supposed to be strong. After all her pastor’s daughter is very ill and in the hospital and he still is the pastor. She sees he’s tired and needs to be forgiven. But she isn’t sure if there is forgiveness for her. So we talk about how we are all imperfect- God knows this. And I proclaim that she is in fact as loved and forgiven as the pastor, as any of us. We talk about what she can use to be strong, and she mentions prayer and trusting in the Lord. We talk about Jesus telling us about shouldering burdens. About how good it has felt for her to talk with someone and to say things and not be judged for them. To drop off some of the burdens she’s carrying. I encourage her to consider counseling- she has rejected an anti-depressant. She is in recovery and taking a pill is not a step she is willing to take. She’ll think about it. We join hands and pray-
“Lord, I thank you for M, who is trying hard to be a strong wife and mother, and provider for her family. She needs strength. She has many responsibilities Lord, and sometimes they weigh her down. May she remember that you tell us you are there to share our burdens, to lighten our loads. When she is feeling weighed down Lord, help her to turn to you. Lord, M is trying to be a faithful servant. May she know that you are right here by her side on the journey, each step of the way. Lord it is hard to admit we cannot do it all, help us to trust in you. Lord, you tell us that you love and forgive us. May M know that she is loved and forgiven by you. Lord, we pray for M’s husband and her family. Guide them in their lives that they may grow in faith, and be restored. We pray for M’s pastor and his family, that you may bring comfort and healing to them in their time of need. Lord, we pray that you will guide M and place in her path those who can help and care for her. Help her to make decisions that will help her. Lord you tell us that we can cast our cares on you, and that you will give us peace. We pray for your peace for M now. Even when we find it hard to come to you, we thank you that you hear our prayers. .. We ask all this in the name of your risen Son, Jesus Christ. Amen. We sit in silence holding hands for while and then she feels a little better and is ready to go. She hands me the blanket. I show her out, watching her walk back out in the great unknown. I will be praying for her. It was a challenge to honor her theological framework regarding accountability on the Judgment Day, and the authority accorded to the pastor. Even when I first met her, she did not ask me if I was a “saved Christian.” My mere title gave me a role. I was trying to balance offering her space to explore without denigrating her shepherd or tearing apart her framework. Even if what she was using was causing trouble, to take it away or dismiss it would leave a person with limited systems with nothing. As God’s representative with the ability to rebuke or admonish, can the pastor deny God’s forgiveness? God desires mercy not sacrifice. She should not have to be a total sacrifice to atone for another. She is in need of grace. We learn from God and from others. The yoke is not intended to increase burden. This framework of getting right with God may have helped her in recovery. She does not speak of any others who are a resource to her. Maybe faith that she is clinging to is in place of people in her life. Unless she comes back to the hospital, there is no way of knowing where the road will take her. I also wonder if she feels she still is repaying God for her earlier “sins.” And I wonder some more as I live out the prayer- placing it in God’s hands.