I served with a volunteer fire department out in Oregon and a lot of times got called up in the middle of the night. The pager would wake me from a sound sleep and I would quickly get into the clothes I’d already laid out so I could get out the door quickly. The faster I could get out, the faster I could get to the station and get to the call.
Many times, when I got back from the call, I would realize I hadn’t prayed at all. I was in such a hurry to get out the door (as I should), then focus on my driving (as I should), and mentally preparing for the call (as I should) that prayer was often an afterthought (though it shouldn’t be). I wasn’t taking the time to reflect on what God was doing. I just focused on the emergency. And often I didn’t take time to reflect on it after the call, either.
One thing I really appreciated from my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) experience was the action/reflection model that was used. While I might not have always enjoyed doing verbatims, taking the time to reflect on my experiences was a good exercise. While I did this before CPE, I would think that with practice I have gotten better at it since then.
There are many different ways of doing action/reflection from a faith perspective. Depending on your faith tradition you may approach this a little different, but the ultimate faith reflection questions are set forth for us to answer.
1. What is going on?
2. Why is this going on?
3. What ought to be going on?
4. How might we respond?
As a first responder, I sometimes needed to act before reflecting (but not to the exclusion of safety for everyone involved). But as a public safety chaplain, I have come to realize that this is rarely the case. I may have the skills to intervene, but I have come to realize that without asking those questions and at least trying to see what God is doing, I am flying blind.
Also, I have come to realize that the first action is always God’s. God is always there before me working in the lives of others. I am being invited into this scene as a chaplain or first responder.
First responders tend to trust very few people, and we hold personal wounds very close to our heart. Even if you didn’t come into chaplaincy from that route, the patterns may rub off. At any rate, for this chaplain, trust takes time when I reflect with another person. Who and when I can reflect with is deeply guarded. I’ve tried sharing with some well-meaning Christians only to be met by shocked looks or inappropriate words of advice. I’m sure this was one of my greatest struggles with CPE. I was expected to reflect with people I didn’t know, who didn’t understand the first-responder world I lived in, and frankly, some of them did not share my biblical world view or moral values.
Yet reflection should be important part of who we are as chaplains. Having been in public safety, my inclination is still to act before I think too deeply. But how do I reflect? When do I take time to reflect? Who can I talk with? Who can I trust with what I saw and what I did? These are all questions that chaplains should reflect on.
I encourage you to set up a pattern for reflection. For me, I wound up posting a post-it note on my dash of my car to remind me to pray as I drove to the station. And after particularly bad calls (and yes, chaplains get bad calls) I made it my habit to take the long way home and turn on praise and worship music to reflect. Today, as both a public safety chaplain and a hospital chaplain I have learned to take additional time to pray, read, worship, journal and when necessary, reflect with trusted friends.
How do you reflect on what God is doing? Have you set up good habits for doing this?
Chaplain Chris M. Wade
South Carolina Public Safety Chaplains Association