Hospital Notes #2: Children are much harder to hate

People often ask me if my job is hard. I am a chaplain in a children’s hospital and they presume difficulty. “How can you stomach all that suffering?” — the subtext of their honest question: “Do you like your job?”

My answer: “I couldn’t say I like it; but I think it pleases God, and I like that.”

When I was a chaplain intern more than a decade ago, I discovered that this work was something I could do. I learned that for me proximity to death made life more precious. It also made it more precarious, but I learned that something in me was able to turn toward the precious more than the precarious. The danger and doom of death’s presence did not haunt me. This is just how I was made, not my own accomplishment. At that time, I wondered, “If I can do this work, maybe I should do it.”

But an earlier call placed on my life won out. I pursued church planting as an employed pastor of Circle of Hope Church for almost nine years. Moving on from that work has been disorienting, difficult and in many ways disastrous, but so far, I have never settled on “disaster” to classify the whole ordeal. Yes, it has required a complete reevaluation of how my life works, but because of Jesus, I have not been destroyed. Today, more than a year later, the privilege of worthy work for my hands here at the hospital has been a big part of how Jesus has been present to me and has preserved me.

No, I do not like that so many kids are sick, and that some die, but I guess I do like my job. In saying so, I am exercising an essential function of my humanity. I can choose to see things one way as opposed to another. Humans can choose! It’s wonderful.

When Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that if “the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” he was saying something about this capacity we have for choosing how we see. He was NOT saying, “Get your eyes right or be damned.” He was saying, “There is light in you, so please tend to it so that it grows, and your eyes grow healthy.”

The presence of death in my every day demands that choice to see with the light that is within me. Darkness lends itself to light landing in my eyes more easily.

Here are three choices I’m making in the midst of such spaces.

One: Most kids get better

The truth is that most of the kids get better; and this is not a slim margin. What we are able to do for very sick kids blows my mind. From brain surgeries to bone marrow transplants, things that not long ago were very dangerous are becoming more and more routine. I am actually amazed, genuinely agog, sincerely astonished by the men and women who work here, and the entire scientific community that daily establishes and expands lifesaving treatments, therapies, techniques and technologies. To be next to such greatness is an honor. To anyone who is reading, thank you for listening. It helps me to say these things and to say them again.

Even though all do not recover, the fact that any and many do is a marvel. Even next to very present sorrow, I can and do say, “Thank you, God!”

Two: Children are much harder to hate than adults

The primary work of a chaplain, I believe, happens inside of me. How can I be aware enough of my own emotions and responses to step around them and continue to give my full attention to the other? I have found this to be much harder work with adults. Grown-ups so easily slip under my skin, elicit emotional projection, just plain irk me. It’s much harder to hate children. It seems my life in the children’s hospital is predisposed to tenderness. The whole place is tuned to mercy and compassion. The temptation to thingify is habitually jettisoned by tininess, and — Lo! — kindness splashes freely on the parents, too.

It is a good place to be. It makes my work easier than my work at an adult hospital. I must not forget to be grateful for this. Although the father-heart in me is battered severely by the suffering I see, I float on the regular flow of joy which I feel each day with little difficulty.

Three: So many children have yet to live as poorly as we do.

The innocence of children is elemental to my buoyancy. I’ve spent more time than most rehearsing the theological dance routines which end in flourishes of universalism, but based on my reading of scripture I’m still convinced that an adult decision to trust and follow Jesus is necessary. It was too important to Jesus and his first disciples for me to definitively de-emphasize questions of eternity. Thank God I am no judge. That is not my job. It feels good to have my marching orders plainly stated: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.” But when I worked with adults we were always talking about merit and the threat of hell. They often brought it up, and I often found it popping up unbidden in my own thoughts. With children, this NEVER happens!

So many children have yet to live as poorly as we do, and because of this, they are much better at dying. This could be foolishly reduced to “ignorance is bliss,” but I choose to see it as the little ones leading us who have grown too wise and happy in our sins to enter the kingdom of God as they do.

Jesus with the final word: Matthew 6:22-23

Look with light, friends, wherever you are!

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy (whole, perfect, complete, one), your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, (divided, incomplete, not yet ripe, hard and stingy) your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: