The Chaplain's Corner: Doing vs. Being in Chaplaincy & The Second Half of Life
Thursday, April 13, 2017
Posted by: Amanda Wiedenfeld
By Dave Anfenson, M.Div., Campus Pastor/Hospice Chaplain, Lutheran Sunset Ministries
When you think about what gives meaning to your life, what is it that first comes to mind?
Perhaps it was buying your first house. For another maybe studying hard, graduating from college or starting a career. After all, once someone has asked your name, the next question is typically, “what do you do for a living?” The list could go on; farming, painting, playing an instrument, quilting, going out to eat, exploring the world, et al. So, the question for those of us who work with older adults is, “What happens when you get to a point in your life where most of these things disappear?”
Whether we like it or not, today’s world judge’s worth and meaning by how much we do. The pressure is on to always be accomplishing our next goal. We are so busy at times thinking about what we are going to do next that we find ourselves unable to value what is taking place in the present. There’s a consistent focus on what we can do and how much we have, instead of on who we are and whose we are, namely God’s children.
This is the beauty of chaplaincy, the gift of materializing the kingdom of God in; hospitals, health care centers, rooms and bedsides. For in the kingdom of God, our worth is not necessarily found in external accomplishments that we do, but in who we are, our ethos and our being.
Joan Chittister said it best in her book Growing Older Gracefully, “These questions, and how we answer them, are central to the second half of life. We must not only ask ourselves, what are we when we pass from doing to being? For the sake of our happiness and mental health, we must also ask the question: What am I when I am not what I used to do? And does anybody really care? And what does that have to do with growing into God (8-9)?”
These are the kinds of questions that make being a chaplain worthwhile. A chaplain worth her/his salt applauds great questions and invites further conversation. There’s much to be said in walking this road with another. In listening to another’s story and letting their life infuse yours with wisdom. It has been said that listening is the closest experience to defining love. Empathic listening can help our elders see that the notion of being is central to who we are, that being loving, kind, hopeful, available and spiritual – these are not the makings of a meaningless life, these are the gifts of a life lived to the fullest. It’s not only how fast we are or what we do that brings meaning, it’s the quality of what we think, what we say and how we love.