Powerful words

“I don’t belong here.”  

These are words a chaplain often hears.

Whether it’s in a prison or a hospital.

Words that express a sense of, “something is happening to me that is not right.” “Something is happening to me that changes my identity.” “I am no-longer ‘John’ or ‘Mary’. I am a patient, an inmate. I am not longer a husband or a wife. A mother or a father. I no-longer have a morning coffee with my colleagues. I no-longer enjoy a sunset with a loved one. I am ‘the stroke in bed four’. I am ‘the crim in cell two.”

Approaching ‘the stroke in bed four’, the chaplain knows that he or she also doesn’t belong here. As one loved by Christ they are a sojourner and exile in this world. They are looking for a better place where there is no more mourning and no more tears. A place where there are no more strokes.

“I don’t belong here” are powerful words. They remind us of the Christian’s status in this world. But what is the person saying? Rather than only listening to the words, the chaplain will be attuned to the emotions.

The words on their own can mean a range of things. “I am confused. Why am I here?” “I am overwhelmed. There is too much happening to me.” “I am so hurt. Nobody comes to visit me.” “I am alienated from everything I know.” “I’m trapped in here.” Each of these expressions of emotion require a different response. The clue to understanding the words, “I don’t belong here” lies in hearing the emotion. Is the person confused, overwhelmed, hurt, alienated or trapped? Understanding the emotion will facilitate an effective pastoral encounter.

At 83 John said to the chaplain, “I don’t belong here.” The chaplain knew John to be a godly, loved and well respected Christian man. The chaplain made the mistake of running with the words and started talking about Christians being sojourners and exiles. John looked at him blankly with a touch of sadness in his face. In effect John had received pious platitudes that didn’t touch his reality. He knew the words to be true, but that particular truth had nothing to do with what he was feeling at that point. The chaplain might have said to him, “The sky is blue.” Another truth that had nothing to do with John’s need at that point.

John persevered, “I’m trapped in here. I missed my grandson’s football match last week. I never miss his games.” The chaplain picked it up. He heard the emotion. He began to help John articulate his feeling of being trapped. He began to help John towards liberation. He began to help John understand and experience that his real identity as a man of God was not as an ever present grandfather, as enjoyable as that is, but as the unique person he is in Christ.

John was liberated from his feeling of “not belonging here” by understanding his position in Christ. His sadness at not being with his grandson remained, but John no-longer felt trapped. The chaplain had gotten to the bottom of the issue by responding to the emotion and not by interpreting the words from his own framework.

John had come to a deeper understanding of his own uniqueness in Christ.

He had been liberated in Christ.