Adventures in The Chaplaincy: “I want to be a muddy heart Chaplain”

I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. When I first came on Active Duty I started reading C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves. Also around the same time an album called “With Every Act of Love” by Jason Gray came out that I have found myself playing over and over. Those two works have been a sort of background music to my wrestling with the kind of Chaplain I want to be and attempting to establish ministry habits I can take with me for years to come.

I’ve also had to start coming to terms with the administrative demands of being a staff officer. They are far greater than I ever imagined and I spend a lot more time typing memos, prepping briefings, and attending meetings than I ever thought I would. But in the midst of the early mornings, the meetings, and never ending training schedule are people. Real people. Hurting people.

Hardly a day goes by when I don’t talk to a soldier going through some absolutely heartbreaking circumstances. In the short time I’ve been on Active Duty I’ve heard more stories than I can count about people facing unimaginable difficulties. Sometimes there’s a part of me that wants to put on a hard shell of armor after hearing the stories. But then I think about the kind of Chaplain I want to be. More importantly, I think about the Savior who called me to this ministry to begin with.

That’s where a song from Jason Gray has really resonated with me. It’s called “If You Want to Love Someone”

If you want to love someone
Search their soul for where it’s broken
Find the cracks and pour your heart in
If you want to love someone

In every heart there is a hollow
Locked against the pain it’s known
If there’s a key, the key is sorrow
Only a trusted hand can hold

I hear that and I hear how I want to respond to the people I minister too. I don’t want to have armor over my heart so thick that when I’m hearing about yet another marriage on the rocks that I stop caring, stop investing in their lives, and perhaps most importantly stop being broken hearted over what they are going through. I’ve learned quickly that to love someone who feels broken requires a certain willingness for you to enter into the brokenness with them. To shoulder some of the weight they are carrying and feel some of the hurt they are feeling.

Just this week I put this into practice. I allowed myself to really feel the pain of the soldier in front of me. My heart broke as I heard his story. Tears welled up in my eyes and I felt a knot in my stomach. For a few moments I felt his pain. It was draining. It would have been so much easier to stay closed off. To not allow myself to feel those things. But I know if I had done that, my ministry to that soldier would have suffered. My heart would not have been in it. It would have a check the block counseling appointment in the guise of “ministry.”

In the chaplaincy there’s a term tossed around that refers to some Chaplains as “muddy boots” Chaplains. These are the Chaplains who go where their soldiers are even if it means going with them into the most unpleasant of circumstances. I want to be more than that. I want to be a “muddy heart” Chaplain. A Chaplain who is not just physically in the presence of the soldiers but also willing to show them a love that transcends anything the world has to offer. A hope that even in the nasty things that life throws at my soldiers there will always be at least one person who they can turn to. One person who will see the brokenness in their soul and pour the love of Jesus into that brokenness. One person who can point them to Jesus and the greatest example of love in the world.

More than anything else that’s what I want. I want to be the muddy heart Chaplain.

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3 thoughts on “Adventures in The Chaplaincy: “I want to be a muddy heart Chaplain”

  1. Feel free to not publish this. I just felt moved to say something.

    I came across your blog because I’m planning a career change into chaplaincy. With luck, I’ll be starting as a chaplain candidate next year (one year before I hit the age cutoff – eep!) and have been reading through your blog the past couple of days. It has not only been one of the best resources I’ve found in letting me know what I’d be getting myself into, but also reaffirmed that Army chaplaincy IS what I want to do with my life. So thank you for that.

    But let me share a concern. Up until now, I’ve worked as a USDOJ attorney adjudicating immigration proceedings. That involves a lot of asylum claims, a lot of hearing testimony from refugees about some of the worst possible things humans can do to each other. Secondary traumatic stress disorder snuck up on me the first year or two in. I didn’t even realize what was happening. I am by nature an empathetic person, and I absolutely believe in the value of what you’re doing in making yourself vulnerable for your soldiers, but I had to learn to detach to keep from burning out. I suspect most people have similar limits in how much we can take.

    I’ve healed and am much stronger for it, but sometimes it’s better not to stare that down in the first place. Avoid it if you can.

    So yes, empathize in the moment. But then put it down. Don’t take it with you out of the office or to sleep. I’d suggest, if you respond well to mental cues, have a personal ritual you do to put down the stress, grief, and anguish you share with your soldiers. You’ve probably been told this before, but you can’t help them effectively if you don’t take care of yourself. There’s a balance you can strike.

    Thanks again, and best wishes.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! I appreciate your thoughts and I hope all the right doors open for you as you look towards the Chaplaincy!

    2. I also wanted to say that I do indeed have to break away from time to time in order to “put down” the burdens that sometimes get unloaded onto my shoulders. Usually it’s a coffee shop and a book. Recently it was an overnight camping trip by myself with a good book and no need to talk to anyone except God.

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