Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Digging Through Life's Garbage

On Fat Tuesday, two chaplains brought in king cake for the pastoral care department.  Yes, we love food.  For those who don’t know, king cake is a Louisiana-style cake that tastes like a cinnamon roll with sugary sprinkles on top.  Somewhere inside the cake is a teeny tiny plastic baby.  Apparently if you get the piece with the baby in it, it’s good luck.  One of the chaplains got the piece with the baby in it.  We knew he got the piece with the baby…but he didn’t know.  He ate his piece and reported nothing back to us about his findings.  Rumors spread around the department that he accidentally ate the baby, but he was adamant that he didn’t.  I asked if he threw any of the cake away and he said, “Yes, just a little piece of plastic that was part of the decoration.”

He began digging in the trash to prove he didn’t throw away the baby.  I then put on gloves and dug through the trash, too.  Sure enough we found a shiny, purple, plastic baby in the trash can.  One of the other chaplains took pictures of us digging in the trash.  When he emailed the photos to me, I was hesitant to show the photos.  What would others think if they saw me digging through the trash?  We take our jobs seriously and work hard and here we were captured in a brief moment of craziness.

But the more I thought about, the more I thought that these pictures provide a metaphor for what we as chaplains do.  We listen as patients, family, and staff share their garbage with us.  We also share our garbage with one another.  The physical, emotional, spiritual garbage that is all a part of everyday life.  Fear of dying…broken family systems…denial about one's own issues...unfinished business…guilt about decisions being made…psychiatric illnesses…anger at God…inability to forgive oneself.  As a chaplain, I not only sit in the midst of patient’s garbage, but I also validate their garbage.  I help them see that their garbage is real and invite them not to move away from it, but to explore it more in-depth.  I, too, carry my own garbage into every visit – some conscious, some unconscious – but nonetheless, I carry garbage around.  Part of the process of being a chaplain is having a peer group and supervisor that help us look through our own garbage.  (For one unit of clinical pastoral education training, a chaplain spends 300 hours on the floors with patients and 100 hours in group time).  It certainly is not easy, but the more we can look at our own garbage, the more we can invite patients into their garbage, too.

We fool ourselves if we think that our life is perfect and without flaw.  Eveyone has garbage.  During this season of Lent, we journey through 40 days of prayer, repentance, sacrifice, and simplicity as we refocus our hearts and minds toward God.  Hopefully in this time, we will all become a little more aware of the garbage in our own lives.  I invite us all to embrace that garbage because it is a part of who we are…baggage and all, we are truly beautiful people created in the image of God.

So here I am doing what we do best…digging through life’s garbage.