Handling The Death of Innocents

[this message was given at the Children of the Heart Remembrance Ceremony, Dec 4, 2016, Glendale YMCA, Arizona]

I suspect that most of you here would agree with me that when there’s a death of an infant, it just seems that the universe is out of sync. Right? That something just does not seem right when there is a death of an innocent.  It seems that something is very wrong about an innocent child who is about to begin an adventurous life and then that life is cut short through abnormal genetics, accidents, or illness.

Don’t these situations shock our equilibrium?  It goes against everything we see life supposed to be.  And I now that to some of you here, the death of innocents may even seem like shear evil.

After a death of someone very close to him, C S Lewis wrote that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain” Lewis states that pain is used by God as a “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (Lewis, Problem of Pain p. 91)

The pain of loss, the pain of grieving, the pain of not be able to parent and raise your child…that is emotionally and spiritually overwhelming.

You may be in a dark spiritual place right now. No one would blame you. If not you, maybe a friend or family member is in spiritual or moral distress.  You might be asking yourself, “What does one do?  Why this? Why MY baby?  What do I do to make meaning of all of this?  How can I go on with life?”

Some Theology for Hope

While we may not know the meaning of why innocents have to die, I do want to briefly share with you some faith principles which can give you hope.

The first principle is that innocents are just that, INNOCENT. They are innocent before their Creator and therefore, when they pass away, they are in God’s presence. Let me repeat that:  your child is in the presence of God.  The length of your child’s life while brief in our earthly standards was virtually indistinguishable from the length ours will be from God’s eternal perspective. As scripture states, “For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14) Please understand that your child’s life was just as valued and precious to God as your life is.

A second principle is to know that your child is happier today than the happiest person on earth has ever been. Being in God’s glorious presence with pleasures evermore greatly outweighs what is here on earth (John Piper, Funeral Meditations for Owen). Your child is in heaven, with God, and is gloriously happy!

And a third principle I’d like to share with you, and for you to really hang on to… is that your child was a divine gift to you. The Lord ordained life and gave you your child. And Yes, your child was taken away too soon, but that does not change the fact that your child was and still are, a gift to you and your family.  You conceived your child. You still have your child – “not in your arms but in your memory; not in your home but in your heart; not on earth but in heaven.” (John Piper, Funeral Meditations for Owen)

Always remember that your child was created by God, is highly valued by God and now is safe and happy in God’s presence.

Emotions

But even knowing and understanding these faith principles, I know your grief still exists. Your loss strikes you at the core of your soul which dredges up a host of emotions.  Emotions of agitation, anxiety, anger, frustration, disappointment, sadness, depression, fear, shame, and maybe even some guilt.

Why do you believe these emotions hurt so much? These emotions are normal reactions to an abnormal event, a major crisis in your life. These are normal thoughts and normal emotions about the situation which happened to you and your baby.  The irony of love is that the more we are capable of loving, the more hurt and grief there is when that person is gone from us. You would probably agree that you were created for relationships, but it becomes deeply emotional and painful when your relationships are torn away.

But One person asked me this once, “How can I use these emotions for good?”

For me, as a minister in the Christian faith, I believe in an all-powerful Creator God, who is a life-breathing, star-speaking, Universe Creator. But also my God can be very personal and all-knowing. A God who knows our every need, our every hurt, our joy, our frustrations and our sorrow.

And my God can be a comforting friend in times of great need. Maybe that’s what you are in great need of right now? A divine friend who cares for you, who listens and understands your hurts, but a God who also is a great comforting peace giver for a deeply aching heart.

Please know that God does react to our suffering. God does not delight in our suffering, but He weeps with us in our pain and grief (John 11). Your suffering will be not in vain. Through this journey that you’re on right now, your pain can allow you to see the world differently, maybe even live life with a whole new perspective, meaning and purpose.

There’s an Ancient story (2 Samuel 12:15-23) about a couple who had an infant who got severely ill. You can imagine the angst and helplessness the couple felt.  You have been there yourself. The couple possessed a deep spiritual faith. They prayed and prayed for their Creator to work a miracle, but over time the child’s illness lingered and their baby died. I can imagine that this couple felt the same any other couple would feel… a great deal of sorrow, grief, frustration – maybe even guilt of “did we do enough for our child?  Was our faith not great enough for God to respond?  maybe even pleas of Why God, Why?”   This couple grieved like anyone else does. This couple grieved just like you are grieving.

But after a while the baby’s father emerged from his isolation of grief. He cleaned himself up and he began to re-orient himself back into a normal schedule with the rest of his family, his friends and his work. I’m sure he thought life would not ever be the same, and we would agree with him.  But through his actions, we can see that there had been time for this parent to pray and plead to his God during his son’s illness, there was a time to appropriately grieve and then there came a time where God gave him the strength to continue remembering and honoring his son as he moved forward in life.

This couple did eventually have more children, who I would imagine the younger children heard stories from their parents about their older brother who had died.   The story goes that one of the younger sons grew up in his daddy’s footsteps and over time became a very powerful and wise leader. The name of this man’s son was Solomon and Solomon left many writings and wise sayings for us to read, ponder, receive strength from, as well as comfort for our souls. These 3,000-year-old writings stemmed from his vast experiences, but also from his own personal ups and downs of life. Solomon discovered there was a certain harshness of life and that despite our greatest efforts, true peace on this side of heaven will not be obtained unless it comes from God Himself.

As I close, please let me share a few lines by Solomon, as he reflected back upon his own life and the life of others, He discovered that there are appointed times or one might say there are seasons in our life, for everything under the sun which comes our way. Solomon wrote (Ecclesiastes 3:2, 3b-4) that there is:

A time to give birth and a time to die,

A time to plant and a time for harvest.

A time to tear down and time to build up.

A time to weep and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn and a time to dance….

My prayer for each of us here today is to know that everyone we are honoring today is dancing in God’s presence… you are mourning today, but through God’s rich mercy and grace, one day you’ll be celebrating and dancing with them as well.

May our great God bless you and keep you;

Make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you

And may He lift up his countenance upon you and give you PEACE. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Amen.

  • Chaplain Keith Evans

Qoheleth’s Quest: Discovering the Meaning of Life

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14: 2:18-23

1:2  “Vanity of Vanities says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

1:12-14 “I, the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.”

2:18-23 “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.”

——-

The middle section of the bible is often called the Wisdom section. It is comprised of the Books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon.

  • In the Book of Job, the reader learns how to suffer well.
  • In the Book of Psalms, the reader learns how to worship well.
  • In Proverbs, the reader discovers how to use knowledge well.
  • In the Song of Solomon, the reader is shown how to love and have relationships well.
  • in the Book of Ecclesiastes, the reader discovers how to live a well-lived life.

Except for the book of Job, Solomon had a part of writing each of the wisdom books. If there were ever a man who could find meaning outside of God, it would be King Solomon. In terms of intelligence, industry, and accomplishments, it would seem reasonable to assume that Solomon had it all. He was the son of King David. He was raised in a palace with everything he desired at his fingertips for the taking. Solomon enjoyed the best education, the best training, by the best teachers available. Solomon then used these gifts to accumulate vast wealth, discover incredible knowledge and wisdom, and experience pleasure of all kinds. And he didn’t do any of this in moderate, but to extreme excess. If Solomon couldn’t discover the secret and meaning to life, who really can?  (Nelson, 3).

Solomon wrote the Song of Solomon earlier in his adult life, reflecting upon his first love Naaman. He wrote Ecclesiastes in his elder years, as reflections of a man who played the fool, who had it all and lost it all, and then discovered what was worth having anyway.  One writer on Solomon asserts,

In Ecclesiastes, the covenant name of God, Yahweh, is never used. Instead, Solomon

refers to God euphemistically by other references and names. Some scholars believe

that this book is written with the nonbeliever in mind. Ecclesiastes addresses someone

 who has sincere questions about life and the nature of God. It’s a book to the nations,

and it is certainly a book for our generation” and current times.  (Nelson, 3-4)

In Hebrew, the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes is called Qoheleth, or the Preacher. Solomon is not just a philosopher in the sense of a thinker, he takes on the role of God’s spokesman to herald what the truth is. Author and Pastor Tommy Nelson of Denton Bible Church states that if the world’s view of wisdom is personified by Rodin’s “The Thinker”, then biblical wisdom is personified in Solomon as “Qoheleth, the Preacher.”  That’s a great analogy!  But Solomon is not like so many modern philosophers who only pontificate about what might be true; instead Solomon tells us the facts of life. These facts instruct us who we can choose to live even when faced with continual disappointment, and yet still be fulfilled personally and spiritually.

Solomon uses a sequential approach to the writings and systematically works through all of our human attempts to find meaning and purpose in life. Solomon starts Ecclesiastes by describing his efforts at intellectualism, then he works through his pursuit of hedonism for meaning and life satisfaction, Finally, he examines materialism, greed and what really has his opulent wealth and vast empire given him?

In Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth examines the best thoughts of men and then shows us why they won’t work. He proves that in and of themselves, these ideas cannot truly satisfy and ultimately bring happiness and meaning to man in his human condition. In contrast to pagan naturalism where all that man does is good, Qoheleth discerns that there is nothing in man that is good. Qoheleth discovers that individuals have to go outside of their selves to find something that is infinite good and whole.  In the end, by Solomon’s witness, humanity has to look to God.

But even for believers in a monotheistic God, Solomon is realistic and talks about life having much inequality and struggles. Life with God can be as troubling and problematic as life is with atheists.  But life with God can give humanity hope that man is not alone and that there is someone greater and Divine who is at the wheel, guiding and leading us as we live each day.

In essence, Ecclesiastes is a written narrative of Qoheleth’s quest is in discovering what is his worldview. Since the Garden of Eden, humanity has wanted to become God, to change the order of not only being the created – but to become the Creator.  This is the same battle which Solomon fought with all his materialism, hedonism and intellectualism, he still experienced a lack of meaning and purpose in his life. This the same battle each of us face, whether we realize it or not!

We each have a worldview. It colors everything at which we look. There is a distinctive Christian worldview that is uniquely Christian way to think and act. The tragedy is that research from the Barna Group reveals that only 8% of evangelical Christians have a Christian worldview.  The Christian worldview stands for absolutism in a world of relativism; supernaturalism over and against naturalism, and exclusivism in face of growing religious pluralism. (Phillips, vii)

Worldviews are not the same as formal philosophy. All people have a set of convictions about how reality functions and how they should each live. A worldview is “the framework of our most basic beliefs that shapes our view of and for the world and is the basis of our decisions and actions” (Phillips, 8).  Your worldview is your blueprint, or map, for reality – to help you explain and interpret life and the world, but also it is a starting point which you apply your view to life through your decisions and actions.

Did you realize that each of us struggle, knowingly or unknowingly with ‘ultimate questions’ of life? These are questions, such as:

  • Why am I living?
  • What is the cause of my existence and that of everyone else?
  • Why do I exist?
  • Why is there a division of good and evil within me?
  • How must I live?
  • What is death – how can I save myself? (Phillips, p.9)

Theses ultimate questions speak our Origins, Meaning, Morality, Destiny, Identity. The answers we embrace to these ultimate questions (consciously or subconsciously) shape our assumptions about God, humanity, and nature. I believe that each of us also struggle the same way that King Solomon struggled with these same types of ultimate questions of life.

John Stonestreet of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview says that you don’t really have a worldview, it’s more like a worldview has you! (Colson Fellow Webinar, 2016)

Have you realistically sat down and analyzed that influencing your thinking? Movies? books? I’d like to unpack for you three basic worldview categories as related by Phillips, Brown and Stonestreet in their text Making Sense of Your World. There are subsets to these worldviews, but I’ll just speak to three broad categories:  Naturalism, Transcendentalism and Theism.

NATURALISM

If a person holds to the worldview of naturalism – they view the world as they see it. For them, the physical universe is all there is. There is nothing beyond or separate from that which they can see, touch, and/or measure. Matter and energy are the basic “stuff” from which all existence is derived. Such a view of reality implies that all obtainable answers for “the ultimate questions” relating to the universe and mankind can be found by the investigation of the physical world. Various ideas that stem from Naturalism are: Ideas that stem from Naturalism are: Materialism, Positivism, Secularism, Scientism, Atheism, Agnosticism.  These ideas are expressed as: Secular Humanism, Marxism/Leninism (ie. socialism), Existentialism, Nihilism and Hedonism. (Phillips, 24)

For contrast, if the Christian Bible says, “In the beginning, God…”, the naturalist mindset would want to re-word this by saying, “In the beginning, hydrogen.”  In Naturalism, the supernatural God is replaced by natural elements, so if there are no spiritual realities, then it is impossible for God to exist. For the naturalist, reality is understood only by the careful use of the scientific method, not wishful thinking (as they view Creationists and Christians).

Science had tenaciously held to a belief in God as the conclusion that the orderly physical properties of earth (i.e. gravity, etc.) served as a constant proof for an orderly God. Up until that point, “All truth was Gods truth”, and the starry heavens above blinked down God’s favor upon a grateful people.

So, what changed?  One thing that happened was Marquis de Laplace (1827) Laplace wrote essay titled, Celestial Mechanics. Leplace presented this work to Napoleon to read. To paraphrase, Napoleon responded, “You have written a large work on the universe without once mentioning its author.” Laplace replied, “But I have no need for that hypothesis.” From that point of time, a type of practical atheism began to influence the scientific community’s perspective. How can science explain life and existence without a divine Creator or an Intelligent Designer? Now, scientific methods and scientific fact became synonymous with absolute truth. Charles Darwin’s 1859 work Origin of Species added more skepticism in trying to explain the design of the universe without God as the Creator.

Also, for the naturalist, whatever promotes their happiness, self-consciousness and self-identity is considered ‘good’.  Whatever hinders happiness would be considered ‘bad.’  This has led to wide-spread ethical relativism, or situational ethics; the belief that morality depends upon the individual or situation, the ends justifies the means.

As stated above, various expressions of Naturalism are: Secular Humanism, Marxism/Leninism (ie. socialism), Existentialism, Nihilism and Hedonism. Let’s quickly discuss a few of these. Nihilism expresses that life is meaningless. It states that man’s existence and quest for purpose is pointless.  This is what King Solomon discovered about his own life 3,000 years ago. When God is excluded from the equation of life, everything is futile, meaningless and of complete vanity (Eccl 1:2; 12; 2:23).

In the expressions of Existentialism and Hedonism, the approach to life ventures to overcome the hopelessness of naturalism by creating one’s own meaning for life. Existentialist and Hedonist fill life with unending experiences of pleasure. In general, this group do not live by any guiding rules or absolute truths, but simply pursue anything that might give meaning to life. Qoheleth’s Quest did this to the extreme as well, but to no avail of any lasting life satisfaction (Eccl 2).

The last expression of Naturalism that we’ll review is Humanism. Certain naturalists choose to focus their energies on making the world a better place to live. Overcoming social injustices of poverty, disease, handicaps and other natural limitations of this life would be on the Humanist’s agenda. I would agree that all of these subjects do indeed need to be considered and helped by society as a whole. However, Humanism discards any ultimate meaning for life and places the needs of humanity as a whole at the center of all universal concerns, without a God of order, purpose and influence. Again, Qoheleth’s Quest discovered this also was meaningless and futile when life is considered outside and without God.

TRANSCENDENTALISM

The second worldview of discussion is Transcendentalism. Transcendentalism views that humanity is God. Transcendentalism sees the world as you want it to be. Ideas of Transcendentalism as seen in Pantheism, Panentheism, Polytheism, Animism, Panpsychism, New Age. Transcendentalism is described as “a melting pot of mystical and psychic movements” (Phillips, 33).  Expressions of Transcendentalism are: Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Hare Krishna, Baha’ism, New Age, Scientology and Wicca.

Transcendentalism promises a progression toward universal unity. And modern society is enamored with the concept of progression. Who wouldn’t like a belief that the world is ultimately moving toward global unity? That’s a much better solution than a biblical Armageddon. The most positive aspect of transcendentalism is the promise of a “New Age” of global harmony and peace. However, scholars observe, “As mankind progresses toward this unity, the shackles of theistic religions and atheistic naturalism must be removed” (Phillips, 38).

Transcendentalism replaces the theistic view of man’s depravity with a positive acclamation of man’s divinity. Such a view fits in well with an American culture that prides itself on individual determination and accomplishment. Actualizing one’s divine nature results in breakthrough experiences for individuals in their careers, health, and relationships.”   Transcendentalism views that man is God.

THEISM

The third main worldview is Theism. Theism sees the world from God’s hands. Theism can look to many gods (polytheism) or toward one god (monotheism).  We will quickly delve into the worldview of monotheism, whether the God is only distant or extremely relational, personal and engaging. Expressions of Theism are: Islam, Judaism, and Biblical Christianity.

Surveys have noted that 3/5 of our world population believes there is a personal deity.  While naturalism builds its system on the assumption that the material universe is all there is; transcendentalism assumes that all reality is of one great mind or spirit. Theism begins with the assumption that God exists. Judaism believes in one God, but not that Christ the messiah has returned.  Islam believes in one God, Allah, but this is not Christianity’s triune God that is comprised of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. One should not say that all faiths lead to heaven and to the same Creator Lord. But many do. That premise may help everyone feel good, but that is not theologically correct per the Torah, the Holy Bible, and the Qu’ran.

King Solomon’s life reflection as Qoheleth described in Ecclesiastes brings out the ways the pagan and later Greek vs. Hebrew worldviews existed in ancient times. Solomon battled against life philosophies which either included God or tried in every way to explain life without God’s existence. Qoheleth discovered that life with God was a life well-lived.

Theism holds that real things do exist beyond the physical realm; God, angels, the human soul, immortality, and the like. Christianity speak of eternal things not seen which naturalism cannot and even avoids (Genesis 1:1; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Hebrews 11:1). Theism sees the created world as a work of art from the hand of the Creator. Christian Theism also delivers an indictment against man because of his personal rebellion against the truth revealed by God.

WRAPUP

The naturalistic, humanistic and transcendentalist, existential worldviews haven’t worked too well over the past four to five thousand years of recorded human history. Yet, man keeps on trying to find some secret that would ultimately replace GOD… but there always tends to be a point of reckoning. Seeking pleasure and satisfaction outside of God is meaningless.

Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias recently commented, “Meaninglessness of life does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness of life come from being weary of pleasure. And that’s why we are bankrupt of meaning in a land of so much.” (RZIM)

The actor Brad Pitt “I had a crisis of faith. I thought you had to experience things if you want to know right from wrong. I’d go to Christian revivals and be moved by the Holy Spirit and I’d go to rock concerts and feel the same fervor. Then I’d be told, “That’s the Devil’s music! Don’t partake in that!’ I wanted to experience things religion said not to experience…When I got untethered from the comfort of religion, it wasn’t a loss of faith for me, it was a discover of self. I had faith that I’m capable enough to hand any situation” (Parade Magazine 2007).

Actor Shia LeBeouf stated similar feelings as Pitt.  “Sometimes I feel like I’m living a meaningless life and I get frightened…I have no idea where this insecurity comes from, but it’s a God-sized hole. If I knew, I’d fill it and I’d be on my way…I have no answers to anything.  None. Why am I an alcoholic? I haven’t a clue!  What is life about? I don’t know…. The best I can do is learn from my mistakes and move forward.  And that’s what I’m trying to do” (Heaven4Sure, Sept 2009).

These celebrities struggle just like you and I about our meaning, our purpose, about the ultimate questions of life when God is removed from life’s equation (not that you really can). But like an ostrich with its head in the sand, our culture is doing everything it can to live life ignoring God. As this is occurring, there is now a foundational shift in world thinking.

But once you find yourself, what will you do with yourself? Will you even like what you find?

The social analyst Daniel Yankelovich states, “If you feel the imperative to fill all your needs and if these needs are contradictory or in conflict with those needs which are simply unfillable, then frustration inevitably follows.” To progressive couples, “self- fulfillment means having a career and marriage and children and sexual freedom and autonomy and being liberal and having money and choosing non-conformity and insisting social justice and enjoying city life and country living and simplicity and graciousness and reading and good friends and on and on.   The individual is not fulfilled by becoming ever more autonomous, indeed to move too far in this direction is to risk psychosis, the ultimate form of autonomy!“ (Psychology Today, April 1981).

To this statement by Yankelovich, Ravi Zacharias responds, “The injunction that to find one’s self, one must lose one’s self, contains the truth any seeker of self-fulfillment needs to grasp.” He later states that the Gospel of Christianity “contradicts us in the way we experience ourselves as alive and compels us to drastically redefine what we mean by life” (RZIM, 1998).

When I study these types of things, I ask myself, “Without a true compass and rudder to guide me in life, how will I ever get anywhere and experience a truly satisfied and fulfilled life?” What’s the solution? The solution in Colossians 3:2 is a great answer; “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”  Verses 5 and 6 of that same chapter fleshes out this thought even further; “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these, the wrath of God is coming…” These words by the Apostle Paul speaks to Qoheleth’s Quest of where ultimate meaning of life is discovered: God.

The Christian or Biblical Worldview of Theism is the worldview that gives humanity the most life satisfaction and fulfillment. As a chaplain, I have officiated my fair share of funerals. It is my opinion (by first hand observation), individuals who lived by the values, virtues and tenants of the Christian faith exit a life that is often described as having been well-lived. They left live legacies which earned respect because their lives were full of honor and integrity which many attendees are inspired to emulate. I suspect this is what Qoheleth’s Quest was all about, discovering the best way to life-life well. For him (and me), it is a life with God.

– Keith Evans

References:

Gary Phillips, William E. Brown and John Stonestreet. Making Sense of Your World, 2nd edition. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Co, 2008.

Tommy Nelson. The Problem of Life with God. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002.

Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, “An Ancient Message through Modern Means, to a Post Modern Mind”, September 1, 1998. http://www.rzim.org

 

Prayer: Words Fitly Spoken, Part 2

[this article was orginally posted on  www.adopt-a-cop.org ]

Prayers are words fitly spoken. Prayers are words which can have dramatic, transformational influence. Influence upon those who listen as well as to the Holy One who the prayer is requested of and who divinely acts.

Prayers come in all styles, shapes and sizes. Prayers of intercession. Prayers for protection. Prayers for change. Prayers for rescue.

Prayers of deep gratitude. Prayers are fitly spoken words to a God most fit to grant merciful favor.

God is good. God hears our prayers, and God acts.

I recently had a ride-a-long with Patrol Officer “Dan”.  Officer Dan is a second career civil servant. Officer Dan is a quiet grandfather, as well as the consummate professional police officer. I generally silently pray to myself for protection and influence. Then I patiently wait for a divine moment to strike up spiritual conversations with officers. That night I prayed but an opportunity did not arise.

But the Holy Spirit was there in the patrol car with us. God was there while Officer Dan attended to traffic stops and domestic violence calls. God worked through Officer Dan to show love and respect to others in need. God had heard this chaplain’s silent prayer. Prayers are words fitly spoken. God yearns to hear our prayers and to act upon our sincere and humble requests.

God wants to provide for us as our Jehovah Jireh (Exodus 15:26).

God wants to deliver and protect us as our Lord of Hosts, Jehovah Sabaoth (1 Samuel 1:13).

God wants to sanctify us as our Jehovah M’Kaddesh (Ezekiel 37:28).

God wants to be our Great Shepherd and Guide as our Jehovah Rohi (Psalm 23).

And God truly wants to our best friend as our Jehovah Shamma (Ezekiel 4:1-4; 48:35).

All this is available. And earnest prayer is one powerful way to request and see God act. Use your words well; to others and to God. Pray for yourself, your family, your church and your local police officers.

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).

Prayer: Words Fitly Spoken, Part 1

[this article was originally posted on:  www.adopt-a-cop.org ]

You probably know the childhood slogan, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  Well, that might have a truth in the physical sense, but it’s definitely not true in the emotional sense.  Words do have meaning and have impact for many years to come. The power within a word or a group of words can injure as much as they are able to inspire, encourage and transform lives and societies. As King Solomon wrote in Book of Proverbs, “A word fitly spoken [a word spoken at the right time] is like apples of gold in settings [pictures, trays, or vessels] of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).

Author and pastor Charles Swindoll speaks to this in his book Simple Faith. Swindoll states, “Like Jell-O, concepts assume the mold of the words into which they are poured. Who has not been stabbed awake by the use of a particular word…or combination of words? Who has not found relief from a well-timed word spoken at the precise moment of need? Who has not been crushed beneath the weight of an ill-chosen word? And who has not gathered fresh courage because a word of hope penetrated the fog of self-doubt?”

Swindoll says, “The word WORD remains the most powerful of all four-letter words.” (emphasis mine) There is great power in using just the right word at the right time. As the wordsmith Mark Twain once wrote, “The difference between the right word and ‘almost the right word’ is like the difference between lightening and a lightening bug.”

Colors can fade.

Shorelines may erode.

Temples will crumble.

Empires fall.

But as the proverb assures, “a word fitly spoken” endures. Words can transform. Words can heal broken hearts and spirits.

With all respect to Swindoll, I would also like to suggest that the word WORD may not be most powerful of all four-letter words, but for believers the word PRAY may be. PRAYER, using a group of words to engage, incite to action the greatest and most powerful force in all of the known universe and beyond. So, let’s PRAY.

Pray for yourself, pray for your family, pray for your church, and pray for your local police officers.

excerpt, What Is A Spiritual Assessment?

[This is an excerpt from The Chaplain Skillset Series, Vol 3: Understanding the Spiritual Assessment. A complimentary copy is available as an e-book on Amazon.com thru April 24, 2016.]

Chapter Two: What Is A Spiritual Assessment?

Rev. Keith A Evans DC, DMin and Zacarias C Buhuro MA, MDiv

For chaplains in any setting, the unspoken protocol is to assess the spirituality and beliefs of the individual which they are ministering. Completing a spirituality assessment allows the chaplain to see what spiritual or faith-specific resources the individual may need for the situation. To do this well, one must understand what spirituality is and what the objectives of completing a spiritual assessment might be.

For a quick review of how spirituality is defined, Christina Puchalski MD of George Washington Institute of Spirituality and Health states,

Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred (Puchalski, 2014, p. 642).

Stephen R. Covey states, “The spiritual dimension is your core, your center, your commitment to your value system. It’s a very private area of life and a supremely important one” (Covey, p. 170).

One can quickly assess from just these two definitions of spirituality that spirituality is multi-faceted and complex.

Chaplains are often asked, “Is there a difference between spirituality and religion?” Some may disagree but my generalized answer is, “Yes.” First of all, everyone has a spirituality within them, whether they personally recognize it or not. People are spiritual in nature. Secondly, I view religion as the way an individual or group determines how they learn and practice (rites, rituals and worship) their spirituality, beliefs and their theologically-based faith. Religion is where your theology, doctrines and dogmas are developed. However, I do not believe a person can commit to and authentically practice a religion without a sense of their own spirituality or spiritual needs. But one may express their spirituality outside of traditional religious practices.

George Fitchett’s book Assessing Spiritual Needs: A Guide for Caregivers (1993) has become a classic among professional chaplains and as a vital clinical pastoral education resource. Fitchett’s work revealed that many approaches were being used to accomplish a spiritual assessment. He discovered that chaplains were using a broad range of spiritual assessments from informal and personal methods to very precise, impersonal “diagnostic” surveys.

Fitchett discusses the importance of the spiritual assessment. For the chaplain, the spiritual assessment becomes the foundation for developing an action plan which will direct soul care, as well as to promote intentional and effective spiritual communication, as well as a way to evaluate chaplaincy interactions, maintain personal accountability, quality assurance, and establish the role and purpose of the chaplain. But whichever spiritual assessment model that is used by a chaplain, these objectives should be foundational to the model’s overall purpose.

Through Fitchett’s research and personal experience, he developed his own spiritual assessment model called the 7 x 7 Model. This model is conceptual, functional, holistic, and provides a great framework for chaplains in any setting for spiritually assessments. In brief, he states that holistic wellness is built around seven dimensions:

  1. Medical
  2. Psychological
  3. Psychosocial
  4. Family systems
  5. Ethnic and cultural
  6. Societal issues
  7. Spiritual dimensions

One can easily see the influence which each of these seven dimensions has upon an individual’s life and perceptions of holistic wellness.

Within the Spiritual dimension, Fitchett’s 7 x 7 Model describes seven smaller categories which give the broader perspective and complex intricacies for an individual’s overall spirituality:

  1. Beliefs and meaning
  2. Vocation and consequences
  3. Experience and emotion
  4. Courage and growth
  5. Ritual and practice
  6. Community
  7. Authority and guidance

In Douglas Edward Robinson’s doctoral work on spiritual assessment and his evaluation of Fitchett’s 7 x 7 Model, he states,

For review, the two hemispheres of assessment are the Holistic and Spiritual…It is likely that you will not gain all the information you seek in the first visit, or during all of your visits. Time does not always permit this thorough an assessment. Remember that hospital patient needs and challenges can rapidly change. Hospitalized patients may present with multiple issues. When this is the case, you may first need to address the most crucial issue, before tending to the others. The important thing to remember is that spiritual care in the hospital is need-based and fluid. Let the patient direct you to the areas in greatest need of intervention. Spiritual welfare and appropriate intervention is always more important than getting all the information. Promoting such integration requires an appropriate assessment of patient spirituality, and definition of conditions for spiritual interventions, that improve patient care (Robinson, 2012).

Fitchett’s 7 x 7 Model seems daunting at first glance, but it actually is a common-sense and thorough approach. It hits upon all aspects of life. If a chaplain, or any person ministering to another, can remember to utilize just a few of these sections, they will more than likely have a meaningful encounter. Of course, the inclusion of all seven areas of the spiritual dimension remains the objective goal.

The next chapter will review a few of the more common spiritual assessments which are in the literature and being practically used in different clinical and public ministry settings. But first, let’s hear about some of the benefits of a chaplain using spiritual assessments.

The Practical Benefits of the Spiritual Assessment

Performing a spiritual assessment should not be about imposing a set of rigid questions on an individual. It should be an interactive conversation between individuals. This discussion will center on healthcare settings, but the spiritual assessment can be administered in any setting with individuals who may be hurting spiritually.

Buhuro: Upon admission to the hospital, patients may undergo a spiritual screening, which is generally very short in nature. The spiritual screening simply asks questions such as, “Do you have spiritual beliefs? Do you have a faith or church preference? Do you want a local minister or church to visit you while you are admitted?”

However, as the patients stay for one or more days, there is a need for a professional chaplain to do the spiritual assessment. A spiritual assessment helps to address the patient’s needs in a more holistic way and also to engage the patients on the meaning of their life as they are dealing with an illness.

One may not claim to belong to any organized religion or may even claim that they are “atheists.” What is important to know is that the spiritual assessment taps into the core of what and who the person is, in terms of meaning making of what is happening in their life.

What does it mean, for example, for a mother that is accustomed to waking up every morning, going to work, taking care of her family and so on…but now she is in the hospital facing a serious illness? What does she make of news about a new diagnosis that may interfere with her daily life? How does she cope with that? Who supports her? How can others be of support to her?

The spiritual assessment deals with the ultimate meaning of life regardless of the person’s religiosity. In my work with hospice patients, one of the dominant issue which often needed to be addressed was their pain. The pain here is not only physical, but emotional, psychological and spiritual pain…..

References:

Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Signature Edition 4.0. Salt Lake City: FranklinCovey, date not listed.

Fitchett, George. Assessing Spiritual Needs: A Guide for Caregivers. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1993.

Puchalski, Christina M., Robert Vitillo, Sharon K. Hull and Nancy Reller. “Improving the Spiritual Dimension of Whole Person Care: Reaching National and International Consensus.” Journal of Palliative Medicine 17, no. 6, 2014: 642.

Robinson, Douglas Edward. “Pastoral Care: A New Model For Assessing the Spiritual Needs of Hospitalized Patients.” D.Min. dissertation. Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, August 2012: 111-112. http://www.digitalcommons.liberty.edu

 

excerpt, Understanding Spirituality and World Faith Expressions

[This excerpt is from The Chaplain Skillset Series, Vol 2: Understanding Spirituality and World Faith Expressions. It is available as an e-book on Amazon.com. ]

Chapter One: The Need

Rev. Keith A Evans D.C., D.Min.

I am a clinical hospital chaplain. You might also consider me a workplace (or marketplace/corporate) chaplain. I say that because I not only work with patients and families but I also spend a great deal of time in building relationships with the organization’s employees in order to minister to them as needs arise. My doctoral work centered on a ministry development project evaluating a specific workplace spirituality environment. The objective was to discover if there were new initiatives which could be implemented which could improve the workplace spirituality perception as well as the practical application of spirituality with employees. (I discuss the spiritual assessment of individuals and organizations in volume three of The Chaplain Skillset Series.)

It did not take long into my literature review and research endeavor to realize that I did not have enough experience with diverse world faiths. I did not truly understand how each faith and belief system expressed themselves (verbally and non-verbally) or how different beliefs guide daily decision making and a person’s perspective of hope, inner peace and life satisfaction. I needed to brush up on my understanding of spirituality expressions, and I needed to do it quickly. I asked myself, “How can a chaplain serving any workplace function to their greatest potential? How can chaplains achieve the best outcomes for their organization? Can this occur if the chaplain does not understand the spirituality and faith demographics of those he or she ministers?” This was where I found myself. Responsible, but not being held accountable. So I began an intensive self-study.

Most chaplains operate on the assumption that spirituality exists and every person possesses a spirituality, whether they fully recognize it or not (Marques, Dhiman and King, pp. 6-7). But one’s spirituality is not by nature or by definition solely about religion or religiosity. This principle has become a foundational pillar for my chaplaincy. Judith A. Neal states that most management authors and consultants in the field of workplace spirituality,

Define the human being as consisting of four parts or four types of energy: (1) Physical: Our ability to take good care of our bodies and physical well-being; (2) Mental: Our ability to think clearly, learn, and make good decisions; (3) Emotional: Our ability to create positive relationships and to handle difficult situations; (4) Spiritual: Our ability to connect to something greater than ourselves and to be of service in the world (Judith Neal, 2014).

Adding to Neal’s definition, Gilbert Fairholm explains,

One’s spirituality is the essence of who he or she is. It defines the inner self, separate from the body, but including the physical and intellectual self […] Spirituality also is the quality of being spiritual, of recognizing the intangible, life-affirming force in self and all human beings. It is a state of intimate relationship with the inner self of higher values and morality. It is recognition of the truth of the inner nature of people (Gilbert Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership, p. 29).

For scholars, it has taken many years to arrive at a consensus on how to define spirituality, as spirituality can be viewed from many perspectives. Christina Puchalski MD serves as the Director of the George Washington Institute of Spirituality and Health. In 2009 and 2014, Puchalski moderated a healthcare panel for spirituality and palliative care and assisted in producing a consensus definition for spirituality. The panel concluded, “Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred” (Puchalski et al, 2014, p. 642).

Others perceive that spirituality stems from one’s inner consciousness and is the source behind the outward form of defined religious practices (Guillory, p. xi). Religion is more strictly defined as how one’s spirituality is practiced within a specific doctrinal or theological context. In a White Paper on professional chaplaincy, spirituality is explained as,

An awareness of relationships with all creation, an appreciation of presence and purpose that includes a sense of meaning. Though not true generations ago, a distinction is frequently made today between spirituality and religion, the latter focusing on defined structures, rituals and doctrines. While religion and medicine were virtually inseparable for thousands of years, the advent of science created a chasm between the two. The term spirituality is a contemporary bridge that renews this relationship (VandeCreek and Burton, 2001, p. 82).

Studies of the spiritual paradigm repeatedly reveal that “people not only work with their hands, but also their hearts and spirit” (Petchsawanga and Duchon, p. 190). Louis Fry’s research of spiritual business leadership observed that when a worker’s inner life is able to consistently fuel their hope and faith into a more transcendent vision of service in all parts of their life, they will begin to live life as it was created, as a precious gift (Fry and Nisiewicz, 2013). A problem which many chaplains possess is understanding the myriad of ways spirituality and diverse faith traditions are personally expressed and how it is later manifested in many ways throughout the individual’s life, including their work life.

To begin to understand this more fully, the remaining chapters of this volume will outline the general faith doctrine and the spirituality expressions of humanism, Buddhist spirituality, Hindu spirituality, Islam spirituality, Jewish Spirituality and Christian spirituality. This volume will provide a solid comparison of the primary world faiths. Each chapter will review the core beliefs of each belief system.

An individual’s spirituality shapes their perspective of life and level of future hope. This is key to possessing realistic optimism and governs their daily resiliency when they are distressed or in the midst of crisis. Due to this principle, I will address whether or not each faith believes in a spiritual afterlife and what the path of salvation for each demands.

The reader is encouraged to delve deeper into each, as well as the hundreds and hundreds of ‘minor’ religions and faiths which are present in our diverse world. As previously mentioned, Volume Three of this Chaplain Skillset Series will discuss how to conduct individual spiritual assessments as well as to evaluate and organization or group’s spirituality.

References:

Fairholm, Gilbert. Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 1997. Accessed July 29, 2014.  http://books.google.com.

Fry, Louis W., and Melissa Sadler Nisiewicz. Maximizing the Triple Bottom Line through Spiritual Leadership. Stanford: Stanford Business Books, 2013. Kindle eBook Location 1096-1116.

Guillory, William A.  Spirituality in the Workplace: A Guide for Adapting to the Chaotically Changing Workplace. Salt Lake City: Innovations International, 2000.

Marques, Joan, Satinder Dhiman and Richard King. Spirituality in the Workplace: What It Is, Why It Matters, How To Make It Work For You. Fawnskin: Personhood Press, 2007.

Neal, Judith A. “Spirituality in the Workplace.” accessed May 22, 2014, http://judineal.com/pages/pubs/academic1.htm#spirit.

Petchsawanga, Pawinee, and and Dennis Duchon. “Workplace Spirituality, Meditation, and Work Performance.” Journal of Management, Spirituality and Religion 9, no. 2 (June 2012): 190.

Puchalski, Christina M., Robert Vitillo, Sharon K. Hull and Nancy Reller. “Improving the Spiritual Dimension of Whole Person Care: Reaching National and International Consensus.” Journal of Palliative Medicine 17, no. 6, 2014: 642.

VandeCreek, Larry, and Laurel Burton, eds. “Professional Chaplaincy: Its Role and Importance in Healthcare.” The Journal of Pastoral Care 55, no.1 (Spring 2001): 82.

excerpt The Chaplain Skillset Series, Vol 1

[This excerpt is from The Chaplain Skillset Series, Vol 1: The Fundamentals: The Why, What, Who and How of Chaplaincy.  The full e-book is available on Amazon.com]

The Chaplain Skillset Series emerged from the vast amount of resources that I have gathered throughout my own quest to become the best minister and professional chaplain that I can eventually be. The goal for this project is simply to share well-respected resources and learned lessons which any chaplain of any faith background and any ministry setting can utilize quickly and effectively. I will speak from my own experiences and from time to time lean heavily upon my own Christian theology to support various chaplain theories, functions and skillsets. Please understand that it is not my aim to offend any reader from other spirituality or religious doctrines. It is the responsibility of every chaplain to develop their own pastoral identity based upon how their life experiences and their own faith informs them. The contributors of this Series will share their perspectives.

The Series will touch upon the primary points which any minister should consider to become a highly skilled and competent chaplain. I am aware that this series may not be exhaustive for all the nuances of chaplaincy, but I will strive for it to be as comprehensive as possible in forming an effective foundation. The Series has a three-fold purpose. It is designed for: 1) individuals who are unfamiliar with the unique field of chaplaincy, 2) for laity or clergy who are discerning whether or not to go into chaplain ministry, and 3) for seasoned clergy and chaplains who simply want to revisit the tried and true skillsets which produce an excellence in chaplaincy. I will always attempt to give credit where credit is due as well as share the many resources which have been helpful in my own chaplain formation.

The Series begins with this initial volume on The Fundamentals. This first volume will attempt to succinctly answer four basic questions: “Why the need for Chaplains?” “What is Chaplaincy?” “Who can be a Chaplain?” and the most practical question for you, the reader, “How is chaplaincy administered? How does it work?” The last chapter will attempt to succeed in “Bringing the Pieces Together” for you through the presentation of three clinical verbatims.

Future volumes in the series will delve deeper into the challenging topics of Developing Skillsets for Handling Trauma and Crisis Situations, Understanding Spirituality and World Faith Expressions, Understanding the Spiritual Assessment, and a volume of essays on the topic on Religious Perspectives of Suffering. Other volumes will review the unique skillsets needed for various forms of chaplaincy such as law enforcement, EMS/fire, workplace, and hospice, as well as look into emerging chaplain specialties such as the new integrative chaplain.

I hope you enjoy The Chaplain Skillset Series. If you sift through and dig out just a few pearls of wisdom from each volume which you can readily use in your own chaplain ministry, then I will consider my efforts to have been worthwhile. May God’s peace be upon you as well as upon your specific ministry.

Chaplain Keith Evans, Editor

Chapter One: Why the Need for Chaplains?

Do you believe there really is a need or place for chaplaincy or chaplains? If there is a need, then is the need only a perceived need for religious people or is chaplaincy supported by solid anecdotal or qualitative evidence? If there is good information supporting chaplains, what makes chaplains needed? I hope to succinctly answer those questions plus many more in this first volume of The Chaplain Skillset Series.

The Widening Gap from Organized Faith

Have you truly considered, “Why the need for Chaplains?” The most current research compiled by the Barna Group (www.barna.org) reveals that 59% of 18-29 year olds with a Christian background have dropped out of attending a church regularly. In 2015, Barna discovered that 25% of unchurched adults are skeptics of God’s existence, labeling themselves as either agnostics or atheists. This trend is more predominant in younger adults who are more educated, racially and ethnically diverse. Across gender lines, females are noted as more religiously skeptical than males. Barna states, “the three primary components that lead to disbelief in God’s existence [by Skeptics] are 1) rejection of the Bible, 2) a lack of trust in the local church and 3) the cultural reinforcement of a secular worldview.” This information led the Barna Group to develop a “post-Christian metric” which looks at multi-dimensional factors to describe “the rich and variegated experience of spirituality and faith.” Spirituality is indeed diverse and is being defined and expressed in many ways. Anecdotal evidence will also reveal that this trend is also occurring throughout all the primary organized faiths: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, etc.

For ministers and chaplains, this data does not come as a surprise, but as a validation of the changing expressions of faith and spirituality in America as well as across the globe. With this trend, I have found that the topic of spirituality may be the best place to begin any faith conversation. In fact, it might even prove to be quite difficult to find anyone who would not accept the statement that “all humans are spiritual and possess a spirituality, whether they recognize it or not.” If you look around and observe your friends, neighbors and co-workers, you will see individuals who are constantly in search for meaning and purpose in their lives and about situations they experience. With so many of the population not active in a local church or organized faith community, there is a great need for effective soul care to be brought to them in their respective places of work, by their co-workers, friends, and even by professional, workplace chaplains. Chaplains are uniquely qualified to bridge this growing gap in our society which has pushed back against organized religion yet still strives to find meaning and relevancy in their spiritual selves.

More Evidence for the Need of Chaplains

With more and more emphasis on spirituality, spirituality at work, and other faith and spirituality movements, there are less and less individuals sitting in church pews on the Sabbath. This has left a void on who or what becomes a person’s spiritual director, pastor or mentor. It also has left a misunderstanding of what soul care is and what soul care is not.

A definition of spirituality that I espouse and one that has also been widely received and accepted by most in healthcare chaplaincy was proposed by Dr. Christina Puchalski of the George Washington Institute of Spirituality and Heath. She states that, “Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.” (Puchalski, 2014) Others perceive that spirituality stems from one’s inner consciousness and is the source behind the outward form of defined religious practices. (Guillory, xi) Religion is more strictly defined as how one’s spirituality is practiced within a specific doctrinal or theological context.

In David G. Benner’s text, “Care of Souls,” Benner states, “The soul is the meeting point of the psychological and spiritual. Its care must, by necessity, include both spiritual and psychological aspects.” In the past century there have been great strides in understanding the human psyche. But at the same time, the ‘experts’ have tended to dissect the immaterial self of individuals and divide it up into distinct components (psychological-spiritual-emotional), with each one standing separate and without connection to another. However, there is a growing understanding that this may not be the case. In fact, a dichotomist view of man may have more merit in this context of soul care when you assess how individuals cope with crises in their lives. Benner states that we should “understand soul as referring to the whole person, including the body, but with particular focus on the inner world of thinking, feeling, and willing. Care of souls can thus be understood as the care of persons in their totality.” (Benner, 22) If the public at large are not engaged in a local church or faith/spirituality community, then who assists them in their journey? Most often, probably no one.

The work of psychologist Kenneth Pargament has been especially well-received within the medical field over the past several decades. Pargament has written extensively on the psychology of an individual’s resiliency based upon religion and spirituality as positive coping skills. Pargament’s behavioral theories and review of literature studies can easily be extrapolated to include individuals under any stress. If you have a scientific lilt to your thinking, then Pargament’s The Psychology of Religion and Coping: Theory, Research, Practice (1997) will be a great resource for you.

The same can be said of the enormous work of medical physician and researcher Harold Koenig. Koenig’s extensive work Spirituality and Health Research: Methods, Measurements, Statistics and Resources (2011) and Handbook of Spirituality and Health, 2nd edition (2012). These more academic tests are replete with many categories of scientific data reviews which support the role and impact of spirituality upon specific physical conditions and mental health issues.

Spirituality has been shown to help a person’s overall resiliency after crisis and stress. The 2011 Balboni Study noted that individuals who have spiritual and religious resources available to them during a time of crisis, such as critical life situations and nearing death itself, these patient’s actually incur less overall medical costs. (Balboni, 2011) I infer from this study that it suggests the individuals became less anxious and more emotional and psychologically relaxed, when they felt more supported and less vulnerable. As this occurred, there was less need for anxiety or pain  medications, which led to the patient’s better comfort and rest, and even increased healing rates because their immune systems improved. When this occurs, the patient will often have a shorter length of stay and better satisfaction with their overall care!

A survey of the American Hospital Association’s database noted a “significantly lower rates of hospital deaths (β=0.4, p<.05) and higher rates of hospice enrollment (β =.06, p<.001) for patients cared for in hospitals that provided chaplaincy services compared to hospitals that did not.”(Flannelly, 2012) The study noted that the results “may be attributable to chaplain’s assistance to patients and families in making decisions about care at the end-of-life, perhaps by aligning their values and wishes with actual treatment plans.” (Flannelly, p. 6)

Spirituality is vastly important to the resiliency and maintenance of emotional well-being and wholeness for individuals while organized religion is being more and more opposed. If this is true, then what or who is the best possible facilitator to assist those in need? From my perspective, the chaplain is the most reasonable bridge builder and available public clergy when much of the population does not belong or attend a church on a regular basis. For the multitude of people with spiritual needs who are also in quest for their own deeper meaning and purpose of life, the well-equipped and skilled chaplain may well prove to be their best spiritual mentor.