A few years back, when I was chaplain on a high-risk maternity unit, our secretary referred me to a patient whose 23-week pregnancy was threatened by severe complications.
Jeannette, the secretary, told me the patient was a music minister’s wife and was expecting twins.
“She has a lot of church friends in her room now,” Jeannette said, “but you could at least introduce yourself.”
We agreed that making her acquaintance now might ease the situation if things went bad later.
The music minister greeted me with the typical chorus of pious platitudes that often hide the fear of men.
“These twins are in God’s hands. I’m not worried,” he said in a dismissive manner. “We know God will heal these babies.”
And honestly, the atmosphere of the room had me nearly convinced. It was filled with a medley of religious books, greeting cards and Bibles. Religious music played on a CD and religious jewelry adorned necks and earlobes.
Concluding that my time might be better used elsewhere, I took their hint and departed. Forty-eight hours later, I stood at the nurses’ station to hear that the twins hadn’t survived.
“They’re going to need you now, chaplain,” Jeanette said with a sympathetic nod.
“They’ll need me, but will they want me?” I muttered.
In a sympathetic tone, Jeanette dared me to “give it a shot.”
Tapping my watch, I said, “I’ll bet they don’t give me five minutes.”
Prayerfully, I entered the room while simultaneously harboring the selfish hope to win the bet. It’s hard to risk going where you aren’t wanted, and I especially didn’t want to be confronted with the accusations against God this man likely would express.
In the room, I found the patient along with her impatient husband.
“We’ve been in church work for years,” he said. “Why couldn’t God help us with this thing?”
They sincerely believed they’d been shortchanged by God and swore they’d never return to church.
I leaned forward to leave, but amazingly, they continued to unload. My visit lasted 45 minutes. They simply wanted someone to hear the case they’d built against God.
I’d lost my bet with the unit secretary, but that was a good thing.
And during the next few days, I was invited for more visits. Finally, on my last visit, the minister said to me, “You probably wondered why we let you stay after we’d dismissed our congregants. You were the only one willing to listen to our gripes about God,” he said.
“That’s OK,” I said. “God saw his son die, too. I think he understands.”
I continued. “You were honest and voiced your complaints directly to God. Most people aren’t that honest. They just talk smack behind God’s back.”
They nodded, thanking me for not trying to change their minds or judge them.
“Just make sure you keep up the conversation with him,” I said with a crack of a smile.
And you know what? I called their home a few times after her discharge and discovered they still were having daily conversations with God. And while those conversations didn’t likely sound like their usual church prayers, I know that God heard every word.
Burkes is a former civilian hospital chaplain and an Air National Guard chaplain. Write firstname.lastname@example.org or visit thechaplain.net. You also can follow him on Twitter, username is “chaplain,” or on Facebook at facebook.com/norrisburkes.