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.

Advertisements

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.

Balancing Faith in God with the Reality of Evil and Suffering

My View of Theodicy: Balancing My Faith in God with the Reality of Evil and Suffering

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

In 2001, a young chiropractic doctor had been in private practice for twelve years and then his life took a dramatic turn. He had sped through his education process and post-graduate work in order to reduce the large amount of school loans required. He desperately wanted to begin living out his dreams. After graduation, he moved to a new town with his new wife of ten months, borrowed even more money, and dealt with contractors for several months as they built out a clinic space. He finally opened up his private practice in December 1989 built upon his faith in God’s direction for his life, earnest prayer and a promissory note to the bank. His back was up against the wall and life was stressful. But he was driven to succeed and not fail. He made $100 in 1989. But one patient at a time, his practice grew and grew and his hard determination was blessed and he developed one the larger and well-respected chiropractic clinics in Southeast Texas.

At the peak of his practice success, God began speaking to the young chiropractor and he yielded full control of his life over to God, to truly be his Lord and Master. How would this affect his life and career? He did not know, but he had a deep sense that things would drastically change. But the young doctor was determined to follow God’s leading despite how his future life may differ.

In the summer of 2001, the young doctor suffered a freakish but significant injury that resulted in multilevel cervical disc herniations. The herniations produced prominent left sided arm and leg weakness and cardiac arrhythmias due to the resultant spinal cord irritation and central canal stenosis. Life changed for him. Former dreams were shattered. This is my story.

           “‎We may not always understand what God is doing, why He leads us down a certain path,

or why He allows things to happen. But we can be certain that He is not making

any mistakes. His wisdom will not allow it.” – Roy Lessin

The following is my applied theology of pain and suffering, of evil and loss, of death and dying. This theodicy was forged in the furnace of my own physical and emotional suffering. Ground up and formulated in the crucible of my own pain. I had never really emotionally dealt with the concept of God’s sovereignty and providence over His creation. Sure, I had heard the intellectual Sunday School and sermon line and I agreed with it. But now in the realness and rawness of physical pain and even more by the emotional pain of career loss and shattered personal dreams, I was literally forced to discover the true and real meaning of suffering.

Due to the strong Christian upbringing and influences in my life, I knew that I did not want to re-define my understanding of God and His mysterious ways from my own distorted thinking. I was in crisis and didn’t even know where to begin searching for answers to the age old question, “Why God? Why?”  So I began reading the Bible. I had always been told by teachers and preachers that God’s Word was His message to me; a manual for life which included answers to all of life’s difficult questions. I knew in the mind that that was true, but I needed to own it and know it in my heart. I wanted to base all my discoveries and understanding upon the firm anchor and unalterable truth of God’s Word. So I kept reading and praying, reading and praying. Reading and praying.

          “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains;

it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” —C.S. Lewis

I have come to learn that the real test of human character comes when the bottom falls out of our lives. It is in those moments and how I respond and react that reveals what I truly believe and place my trust upon. While in my selfish humanness, I would never desire for a problem or struggle to come into my life, but they do come and will continue to come in the future. Some have been huge and overwhelming to me in the moment. But as time passes I have noticed that I tend to forget the pain but begin to see the residual scars of the revealed life lessons left to better equip me and guide me through the next challenge of life.

We are like flowers that grow, bloom and then fade. For most of us, we will live a life that will exist between two hospitals. One for birth and one for death. Between our birth and death we all will live a life full of experiences, good and bad. Why do some struggle, overcome, and flourish while others struggle, become overwhelmed and lose their faith? For me, how we each handle those experiences is based upon our attitude and views of God, evil, and the issue of death.

I absolutely know evil exists. All I have to do is to look internally at my endless selfishness and pride that I fight against. We all have the free will to make right or wrong choices. Consequences to those choices may lead to intense suffering of ourselves and may involve others as well. We all can choose evil over good.

          “Satan is on the prowl, but God is on the throne.” – Brad Bigney

I believe that Satan is real and full of hate. Satan can be wickedly scary or he can approach with all the deceitful beauty and allure that can confuse the most righteous person. I believe that the triune God does allow and has unleashed Satan to have power in this world. Looking at the evening news each day validates that Satan has been allowed to kill, steal and destroy. His resources and handiwork seems endless. But according to the biblical record of Job, Satan and his demons cannot do what God forbids them to do.

          “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity,

I am the LORD, who does all these things.” – Isaiah 45:7

Some theologians state that God is not all-powerful and therefore He is not in control. If God is not in control, then who is? If God is not in control, then the truths and promises of His Word are made worthless. If God is not in control, then the death, burial and resurrection of Christ is but a mockery and was all in vain. If the Gospel message is meaningless, then my faith is placed upon sinking sand and my life will eventually be in shambles. If God is not in control of yesterday, today and tomorrow, how can anyone really have any lasting hope at all?

I may not understand why or for what reason God allows things to occur, but I hold on to the truth that He is actively holding everything together (Hebrews 1:3) and is working out everything according to His will (Ephesians 1:11). To me, this view is personally freeing to know that I do not have to make sense of it or even try to control matters. All I need to do is simply trust Him, worship Him, and attempt to live a life that is pleasing to Him by the power of Christ in my life.

Many people just can not fathom that God can let unthinkable things happen to decent people. People struggle with the issue of pain and suffering from both an emotional and intellectual level. Some are emotionally repelled by evil and suffering that seems so contrary to the nature of a loving and caring God. Some cannot intellectually wrap their mind around the contrast of their God who also allows the evil and suffering that is occurring all about them. If God really does allow such awful things to happen, then they are repelled by God himself. If a person is repelled by God, then how can they relate to or trust a God like that? (Hicks, 148)  If this is the case then they may actually begin to re-define their concept of God. A revised definition in one’s mind that helps them settle their confusion about God, does that change the reality of who is the great ‘I AM?’ When this occurs, I believe the reverence and awe of the one and holy God is minimized.

To the chagrin of many, the Holy Word of God teaches that evil is a part of His plan (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28; Acts 4:27-28) but this does not mean that God is the author or cause of sin.  God even permits evil in order to accomplish His purposes (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:6; Job 1:12-22; Matthew 23:37; Acts 14:16).  God prevents evil on some occasions, but restrains it at other times (Genesis 20:3, 4, 17, 18; Romans 13:1-5; 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8).  The world and all that is in it is constantly under the watchful eye and rule of God, who controls all things in such a way as to bring about His own eternal purpose and plan without failure.  But it is also God as the Holy Spirit that controls and throttles the intensity of Satan’s evil. And fortunately of me it was God the Son who died for ultimate victory over evil. This is God’s providence.

As a football coach, my grandfather would stand on the sideline and order the next series of plays which would lead the team to victory. But God is active and not simply on the sideline like my grandfather. God has already made the winning call offering redemption to all of mankind. The game of life and mankind on this earth just has not ended yet. The day of ultimate reckoning is approaching. If one believes in the Gospel and are spiritually maturing as Christ followers, then I believe that their belief and faith will help them endure and persevere the cruelest of evil and suffering in this world.

          “Pain is inevitable – misery is an option.” – Tim Hansel

God’s providence is evident in the lives of His people (Genesis 37:26, 27; 39:15-18; 40: 9-23; 45:5).  Jacob thought the evils that had occurred were against him alone, and not to help save the nation of Israel from famine.  This is evident in the rise and fall of nations (Isaiah 14:24-27; 45:1; Zechariah l:18-21; Proverbs 21:l). This is evident in His use of natural evil when nature is harmful (Deuteronomy 28:17 Numbers 14:36, 37; Acts 5:5,70/7 Corinthians 11:30; Isaiah 5:6).  This is evident in His control over Satan who is an agent of moral and natural evil (Job 1:12-19; 2:5-8; I Chronicles 21:1; 2 Samuel 24:1; Luke 13:10-17; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10; 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7, 10-12).  God is sovereign and provident and I have fully submitted to His Lordship.

Is God all powerful? Is God holy and pure? Does evil and suffering exist?  I believe the answer is yes to all three questions and the personal journey is to discover within oneself how to strike a balanced theological position between each. In all the moments of my life, I have learned that God has been there right there beside me. The truth of God’s love is not that bad things won’t happen. But it is His promise that He will be right there with me when they do.

          “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” – Romans 8:28

I believe that suffering is relative. It is based upon one’s attitude toward it. How can one patient with pancreatic cancer be thunderstruck with fear and depression, while another patient with the same diagnosis be coping relatively well? An illness experience is shaped and strongly influenced by culture. Disease is a medical paradigm, but illness may be more about the bio-psycho-social-spiritual interactions. I have become much more aware this summer that a patient’s culture (their traditions, religious beliefs and emotional behaviors, etc.) has an incredible impact on how an ill person mentally approaches their sickness.

Of course in our suffering, we want nothing less than the immediate alleviation of suffering.  But God wants to give us so much more. He wants to give us things that will last all eternity. Has God rigged us to experience personal crises in order to get our attention? Through our suffering, God wants to give us a new obedience to His word (Psalm 119:67, 71), holiness which will lead to righteousness and peace (Hebrews 12:10, 11), perseverance, character and hope (Romans 5:3-5), and a knowledge of His presence in our lives by His Spirit (John 14-16). In short, He wants to give us His kingdom.

There is a sense that the American culture feels that some suffering is okay, but too much pain and suffering is not fair. Is there a difference between the level or intensity of suffering that makes it unpalatable to many? Are there unspoken rights or entitlements of human life that only a certain amount of suffering is alright, but if it crosses over some imaginary level of intensity the suffering becomes inhuman or improper? These are areas in which I still seek answers.

I have intellectually and emotionally chosen to believe in God’s Word as objective and absolute Truth. It is the true north that I set the journey of my life upon. If I acknowledge God as governing the flight of a sparrow (Matthew 10:29), then how can I not acknowledge that He also governs the flight of bullets, cancers, and spinal injuries? Is not this the basis of every Bible story about the victory of God? That everything and every action belongs to the Lord? God is my All and He is not small. This is the solid foundation of which I ground my spiritual comfort in the midst of any and all calamity, because it is mediated through the Truth of God.

A few years ago I listened to a sermon which included his poem by Martha Snell Nicholson:

I stood a mendicant (beggar) of God before His royal throne

And begged him for one priceless gift, which I could call my own.

I took the gift from out His hand, but as I would depart

I cried, “But Lord this is a thorn and it has pierced my heart.

This is a strange, a hurtful gift, which Thou hast given me.”

He said, “My child, I give good gifts and gave My best to thee.”

I took it home and though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore,

As long years passed I learned at last to love it more and more.

I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace,

He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides His face.

How we use our thorns are totally up to each of us.  To me I want to try to find the richer meaning and purpose behind the circumstances of life. If it takes chronic back pain and surgeries for me to become closer and have a more intimate relationship with my Lord, then I say ‘bring it on.” Considering the alternative, I will gladly take that thorn in my side. And I do not have any regrets or bitterness about my present aches and pains. It might strike some that my theodicy has emerged as a bit “high in the sky”, or “holier than thou”, but I would like to see it as “being holier with Thou” as I believe the Christian life should progressively be.

          “One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.” – G.K. Chesterton

Using this theodicy has helped me well personally and in ministry to others. It has given me great confidence in a hope that can change the attitude toward any situation. As I make clinical rounds as a hospital chaplain, I have looked deep into the eyes and hurting souls of people in pain. Many are families who have lost a spouse or loved one, patients with horrible diseases that will take their lives, and I have seen them crying out for comfort and solace which is well beyond any human or medical capabilities. It is in these moments that I know that God hears their cries and He hurts with them in their torment. Whether it is in His will that their situation will change course or not, I do not know, nor do I have control. But I can relax in knowing that He has heard their prayers and understands their hurts. So many times as I have prayed with patients, I have truly felt the presence of Almighty God in the room with us. To that I am blessed to have experienced.

One may ask why would a loving God shatter a person’s dreams, career and create physical suffering? I hope this brief article helps to answer that question. I do not regret any of my pain and suffering as it has been God’s tool in reshaping and molding my life for His glory. But He also worked on me on His own timing. He used a physical thorn to replace my shattered dream of professional success with an enhanced avocation of my spiritual vision and hunger for righteousness. He then drew me to a ministry career that exists on the daily front lines of spiritual battle with souls of men and women who are struggling in their physical, emotional and spiritual pain. While I am aware that there will be more valley times in my life, I look forward to seeing the blessing and beauty of God’s hand on hurting souls.

          “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding,

for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.

She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her…

She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.

– Proverbs 3:13-15, 18

References

Hicks, Peter, “The Message of Evil and Suffering”, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2006.

Lewis, C. S., The Problem of Pain, San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1949

Piper, John and Justin Taylor, eds., “Suffering and Sovereignty of God”, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006.

Piper, John, sermon address to Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis MN, “To be a mother is a call to suffer”, May 12, 2001, http://www.desiringgod.org.

Welch, Edward, “Exalting Pain? Ignoring Pain? What do we do with Suffering?” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Volume XII Number 3, Spring 1994.

Understanding and Developing Your Emotional & Spiritual Health

(These are similar, yet very different dimensions of your total “Self”)

Experiencing a great quality of life involves a balance between your physical, your emotional and your spiritual selves. The well-used analogy of a “‘three-legged stool” can be used as a visual image of what happens when one or two legs of your physical-emotional-spiritual selves are not in balance, or maybe not even present. Many people usually give their physical self the majority of attention and the emotional self receives a very small minority of attention. Leaving, more often than not, the spiritual self totally abandoned and without any intentional nurturing.

As this triad of total holistic health becomes more balanced, each leg’s strength or sphere of influence begins to overlap the others. The greater the overlap, the stronger the triad and a person’s resilience to crisis and daily cumulative stress. 

For the remainder of this discussion, let’s assume your physical self is well established and is the strongest leg of the “three-legged stool” of holistic wellness.

Emotional Health is internally managed and directed. This area involves your ability to process and work through experiences and stress. Your emotional health also refers to your ability to recover (your level of resiliency) from draining and overwhelming experiences in order to be able to respond to stressful situations later in a more appropriate manner. Emotional health is your ability to handle emotional baggage that you pick up while doing your job and living life. When you don’t possess good emotional health, you are more apt to become trapped, helplessly, in dark emotional states. Developing good positive ways to cope is crucial.

Employee Holistic Wellness

Spiritual Health is externally directed or influenced. This is your big picture perspective of life and how you connect to nature, the divine, crisis and even your own meaning and purpose. Spiritual health gives purpose to your human existence, while guiding and developing your character, morals, integrity and values of life. This area primarily involves how you interact with an external value system. Your spiritual and religious values shape your decision-making (ethics) and how you decide what ‘right or wrong’ to be.

Do you act and look at yourself and your work from an external perspective? It is from this external vantage point of higher, absolute values (may be religious or not) which shape your decisions of life, relationships, work integrity, and even the value or sanctity of life itself. Your spiritual health informs and guides the reasons and considerations that go into your daily decisions. People who state that they have a ‘calling’ to do certain type of work have a spiritual perspective for what they do. In fact, they realize that even if they made much more money doing a different job, they wouldn’t be truly happy not doing what they were divinely “called” to do for humanity.

Both emotional and spiritual stressors can create deep scars which, when not appropriately addressed, may even kill (through addictions and suicide). Both law enforcement and healthcare workers have a substantially higher risk for addictions and suicide. How is your emotional self? Your spiritual self?

If emotional health were the only consideration, then most first responders and healthcare providers would probably leave the field. Developing good emotional health is not enough for the fast-paced, cumulative stress. Your level of emotional health is how you react, manage and decide to cope (positively or negatively) to stress. You might be able to manage for a while, but eventually the stress will overwhelm you. In order to not become chronically overwhelmed, you must nurture your spirituality. Spiritual health is what inspires you and informs you of why you do what you do for others. The oft ignored spiritual component is the missing link to truly living life to the fullest.

It is when first responders (law enforcement/fire/ems) and healthcare providers go into their respected fields and develop a deep inner, spiritual connection to their job (and realize how they dramatically influence and impact society) that this spiritual awareness, energy, and inspiration keeps them healthy through a long career of helping others. But without good spiritual health, even when you have strong emotional coping strategies, you might easily burn-out and even consider harming yourself, others and even suicide. It is the spiritual component that generally is the weak area and serves as the tipping point in the three-legged stool analogy.

Just as physical health is of critical importance for you to do your job well, completing a healthy triad by developing and maintaining a good balance in your physical, emotional and spiritual health is of paramount importance. Don’t become a physical marvel who only possesses an empty, barren soul.  Become physically, emotionally and spiritually balanced.

Chaplain Keith

References:

Kevin Gilmartin PhD, Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement, 2002.

Rabbi Carey Friedman, Spiritual Survival for Law Enforcement, 2015.

A new e-book just released, “The Chaplain Skillset Series: Vol 1 The Fundamentals”

I have begun a writing project. It will be a series of small volumes (initially in e-book format) ebook covervol1of everything I wished I knew as I began my professional chaplain career. The first volume, “The Fundamentals: The Why, What, Who and How of Chaplaincy” is now available through Amazon Kindle.

I would love to have a few reviews of what you think about it. It’s being offered at only $0.99 for the next few weeks, but will remain very economical after the introductory phase.

Another three volumes of The Chaplain Skillset Series will be released later this year and more in 2016. Future topics will include “Mastering the Spiritual Assessment,” “Handling Trauma and Crisis Situations,” and “Understanding the Diverse Expressions of World Faiths and Spirituality.”

– Chaplain Keith Evans