Spiritual Care in Practice
Miriam has been a churchgoer all her life. Growing up in a preacher’s home, she never missed a Sunday service. Often, she sat through two or more services each week. This habit stayed with her throughout her childhood and into her adult life. It became a value that she instilled in the lives of her children as well. So, when the day came when she didn’t feel like going to church anymore, she started to worry about what was wrong with her. She told herself, “I know I should want to go, but I don’t have any getup and go. I’d rather just stay in bed.”
The next day, I made my routine visit to see Miriam. I could tell from the moment I got into her apartment that she wasn’t having a good day. Her voice didn’t have its usual welcoming ring to it. Her warm smile was missing and she was sitting in her chair as if she hadn’t left it all morning. I made my way across the room and sat down in the chair across from her. I looked at her and asked, “How are you, Miriam?” That one question, and a willingness to sit, listen, and respond in empathy, led to an honest and vulnerable conversation about depression, self-worth, and purpose at the end of life. Miriam was ready to reflect deeply about what was going on in her and I was given the gift of being able to be a witness to this moment.
This profound conversation didn’t happen as a result of some extraordinary work. It happened because of the ordinary daily work of spiritual care.
Spiritual care is all about faithful presence. That Monday morning visit with Miriam was not the first time I had spent time with her. Over the last few years, I’ve visited with Miriam many times and she’s participated in the spiritual enrichment activities we offer, like Bible studies and chapel services. She’s been to funerals and memorial services I’ve officiated at Beacon Hill and I’ve provided grief support when her spouse moved to another level of care.
But faithful presence is not just about being in the same room, it’s about listening for what’s really going on in the resident’s life. The chaplains at Beacon Hill have all completed Clinical Pastoral Education, a program designed specifically for spiritual care work in medical environments. One of the focuses of this training is to help chaplains become the kind of listener that John Powell identifies when he writes, “Listening is a search to find the treasure of the true person as revealed verbally and non-verbally.” Chaplains have the privilege of spending their careers using their listening skills to be a witness to what is going on at the heart level in people’s lives.
My friend, Nathaniel, is one of the best listeners I know. Whenever I go to him with something that is causing me distress, he listens for what’s really going on. He doesn’t try to fix my problem. He doesn’t analyze it. Instead, he listens in a way that hears the underlying matters of my heart. He notices when I’m feeling overwhelmed, afraid, or sad and he can tell the difference between them. He has become one of my closest confidants, because he has proven to be a reliable listener. He also happens to be a chaplain. The spiritual care he has provided to me has helped me through some difficult seasons in my life.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Chaplain Mary and I both noticed the grief that was compounding in everyone’s life. We knew the skills we had learned through our training were helping, but we wanted to do more, so we both became a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist® with the Grief Recovery Institute. This training has provided us with more tools to provide for the needs of our residents in seasons of grief. Whether the grief comes as a result of the loss of a loved one, the death of a pet, broken relationship, or any life change, we affirm that grief is a normal response to loss and there are action steps you can take to heal your heart. We are now offering the Grief Recovery Method® to residents on a one-to-one basis.
As Jesus modeled for us throughout his life, spiritual care is about meeting each individual where they are at on their own life journey. From a posture of unconditional acceptance and respect for each person, Jesus engaged a diversity of people with a consistent message of loving hospitality. Whether it was small children, widows, or even his enemies, Jesus was able to stay present even when others thought he should find better things to do with his time. Our chaplains seek to follow Jesus’ example by meeting all residents, their family, and staff where they are at on their own life journey and seek to build trust, listen to life stories, and be available to them at their request. Whether you’re a person of faith, no faith, or are still searching, our chaplains would love to support you during your years at Beacon Hill.
Learn more about all the spiritual care services we offer by going to https://beaconhillgr.org/spirit/
 All names have been changed to maintain privacy for our residents.