Finding meaning in suffering

This post was written by Patrick Riecke, director, Chaplaincy & Volunteer Services.

The two dozen hospital chaplains in our department have each had a similar experience. A conversation begins with a stranger, and they ask a common question.

"Where do you work?"

When they hear that the chaplain works at a hospital, they ask the next logical question.

"What do you do there?"

"I am a chaplain," they respond.

"Oh, that's interesting. What does a chaplain do at the hospital?"

Most of our chaplains would like to pass on that question, because there's no easy answer. What should we say? We could answer in many ways.

We respond when a 16-year-old has been shot. We respond when a mother has been given a terrifying diagnosis. We respond when a grandfather has a heart attack or a grandmother has a stroke. We respond when a mom has to say goodbye to her baby, whether that baby has lived in mom's womb for just six weeks, or that "baby" is a senior citizen himself. We respond when a mom wants her (deceased) baby baptized. We respond when the police are hovering around the toddler because the grieving father might actually be the perpetrator of the offense that led to this emergency room visit.

We respond when the family is singing a last hymn before removing the medical interventions that are keeping their loved one breathing. Our chaplains serve people facing these losses and more.

Every. Single. Shift. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days per year.

We know death.

We know grief.

We know pain.

If all your worst nightmares and greatest hopes were combined to create a box office movie, chaplains would be the audience in the theater. We are seldom characters in the story, but we observe, care and support you and yours with all our hearts.

When a whole team of professionals observes this kind of pain as a part of their every workday, they have to believe there can be meaning found in suffering.

If we didn't believe that God could help us find meaning in suffering, I suppose we would have all quit by now. We've got to do better at helping people figure out how to find meaning in suffering. It’s something we all need. Something my team needs. Something I need.

Need assistance?

Contact us