Letting people be normal people

I got called to a “Code Blue”. Someone’s heart had stopped. Everyone in the hospital who was part of crisis team turned from whatever they were doing and moved toward that room. I’m part of that team. I went to the room. It was empty of medical staff. They had started her heart easily and had gone back to normal business, leaving a handful of family  members in the room.

I asked if I could pray. I asked which one was the husband. And he said, “I’m a pastor too.”

In the moment I said, “It’s hard to be husband and pastor. It’s okay to be husband and let others be the pastor.”

He nodded. And then he hugged me. A powerful side hug that lasted long enough for me to know that wearing two hats had been taking a toll.

I see this struggle of the two hats often.

  • The wife who watched her husband slump in his chair as his heart stopped, and became a nurse again, giving compressions, calling for help.
  • The mom holding the tiny body of her baby while coaching her preteen daughter in how to grieve.
  • The physician whose own body is struggling.
  • The pastor who spent years caring for others on hospital calls lying in the hospital bed himself.
  • The chaplain who watches all the stories unfold.

I think that we struggle because our professional role has professional standards and professional training. These are the things that pastors do. These are the requirements for chaplains. This is how nurses and physicians are trained to respond.

But the standards aren’t as clear when our personal life comes to the front. We don’t know the professional standards and training for being Jack’s wife. Jill’s husband. Frank’s son. Ellen’s mother. Me.

In spite of all the years of experiential relational learning, the standards of our professional roles rise to the top. “I have to stay strong for the other people who are watching, even though my heart is breaking for my wife.”

Somehow, it’s necessary to acknowledge the conflict of the roles. It’s necessary to let go of the professional role others, understandably, expect from us. It’s necessary to be the person only we can be.

In the moment when I offered my new pastor friend the option of being husband, he leaned into it and into me.

And then he was back.

I saw him later. He told me about a woman crying in a room down the hall. He had offered her some comfort. I smiled. Because our professional role isn’t all of us, but it is part of us. We can’t be husband OR pastor. Chaplain or person. Wife or nurse.

We can’t do everything at once. We have to release some roles to embrace others. But over time we find clarity and resilience if we can be the whole person, in balance.


Before You Walk In Copyright © 2021 by Jon Charles Swanson. All Rights Reserved.

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