There is a story in the New Testament where John says to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
The disciples see this guy “casting out demons.” Isn’t that what we are doing when we are supporting someone – protecting them from “demons” that want to hurt them or have been hurting them? I think it is!
But the disciples don’t like this guy, because the guy wasn’t doing it right! He wasn’t one of them!
But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mar 9:38-40 NRS).
When people are for you, even if they get supporting you wrong, do what Jesus taught. Welcome them! This is your chance to love them, forgive them, and most of all educate them!
One of the things you get to do while preparing for ordination is to study pastoral care in a supervised fashion. Mine took place in the emergency room during the graveyard shift in a children’s hospital.
My first night in the ER, a child was brought in by helicopter with a shotgun hit to his thigh. The thigh was literally blown wide open. The muscle looked like ground beef. I could see his bone as they prepared him for surgery. The surgeon asked me to bring the boy’s mother into the hall where she could see her son and the surgeon could talk to her as they rushed her son into surgery. The doctor had less than a minute to spend with her. He told her the facts that ended with, “Your son will likely lose his leg, but I don’t think he will die.” Then the doctor and her son were gone. I was left with the pieces of a devastated single mom and a desire to support her the best I could. I stood there and prayed I wouldn’t get this wrong.
The problem is, the more you study how to support those who have suffered injustice, whether that injustice is caused by disease, racism, sexism, or any other cause, there is no sure fire way to offer support. What one person sees as helpful, another will see as hurtful. We all come with different perspectives (and different baggage). We all have different needs. And that is okay. But it makes it hard for those of us who want to help.
To prove this problem to the chaplain interns, our supervisor passed out five or six different articles that all started with titles like “10 Things not to Say” or “5 Things Not to Do.” Each article was by a different person and none of them agreed. One person didn’t like that the chaplain asked if they could pray for them. Another person was mad that the chaplain didn’t gather their family and have a prayer service in the hall. One wanted the chaplain to cheer them up, while another wanted the chaplain to grieve with them. One wanted to be hugged, another didn’t want to be touched at all.
I sat with the boy’s mother for hours because she told me what she needed. Through the GBI questioning her, through the boy’s father – who she had not seen in years – showing up drunk and pushing her around, through the doctor coming out of surgery and telling her the boy’s leg had been saved, I stayed. Mostly I just sat next to her, protected her from the boy’s father, and prayed silently doing simple things like making sure she stayed hydrated.
But a day later, there was a newborn infant in the NICU. She looked perfect in every way. Yet I stood with the parents and grandparents while the doctor told them that the only thing keeping the baby alive was the life support and that it should be disconnected as soon as they were ready since the infant would be in pain when the anesthesia wore off. Again, this time the mom asked me to stay with her as her baby took her last breath. The husband’s mother, on hearing this, demanded that I leave because she was Southern Baptist and didn’t believe in women pastors. She actually called me “evil.” At that moment, in her grief, she thought shaming me would fix things. She thought shaming me for being a minister would please God and God would heal the baby. In the end, her children requested that she leave and was gently removed by a male nurse.
My point is this. My desire to support – even the grandmother – was really strong, but that doesn’t mean I know what to do until I am educated. I can show up. I can leave when asked. I can pray. I can hold your hand. I can stand between you and your ex. I can even find a Southern Baptist male chaplain for you. But I can’t do it the way that is helpful to you unless you educate me.
In addition, there is another dynamic to all of this that makes things even more complicated. The grandmother needed to realize that the other people – her daughter and son – who were also experiencing this horrific tragedy needed something different than she did. She didn’t have the market cornered on suffering. Everyone in that room was suffering. What she needed was not what the others needed and she needed to work with that.
Don’t shame the people who want to support you when they get it wrong! That isn’t going to fix anything except push them away. Instead love, forgive, and educate! As Jesus said, “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mar 9:38-40 NRS).
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