Each fall, COMISS Network: the Network on Ministry in Specialized Settings, sponsors a week to recognize and affirm Pastoral Care providers. This year’s theme is Spiritual Resilience. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship endorses over 728 chaplains and pastoral counselors who provide pastoral care in a variety of specialized settings. This week we will hear from six of these as they reflect on spiritual resilience in their ministries. As you read their reflections take a moment to express appreciation to those who provide pastoral care in your community.
By Jeromy Wells
I am currently enrolled in a certification program for integrating chaplaincy and mental health services for veterans and active service members called Mental Health Integration for Chaplaincy Services (MHICS) through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The purpose of this program to better equip chaplains in their care for personnel with mental health issues like PTSD, moral injury, addictions and suicidal ideations.
One of the focus areas for our study in MHICS is learning about different models of Evidence Based Practices (EBPs) in psychotherapy. One of the EBPs we have studied is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Some of the exercises in ACT focus on mindfulness, thinking about things from a different perspective and identifying personal values. Through the practice of ACT I have seen elements of my faith in a new light, and I have had the privilege of walking with others as they have found hope when they felt like all hope was lost.
One example of how I have integrated ACT with my own faith practice and provision of pastoral care is within the walls of the base chapel. It’s a sanctuary in the truest since of the word. It’s the space set aside for our Airmen and their families to practice their freedom of religion, whatever that religion might be. It’s the safe place to go when everything breaks down. It’s the place to go when they feel there’s no other place to go. It’s a safe place to be in the moment and allow yourself to become aware of God’s presence.
From the outside of the chapel it looks like a regular old building with dark and dirty windows. It stands out from the other buildings but it’s not all that appealing. Once you go inside; however, the light shines through and awakens your senses to the possibility of something more.
The large windows of stained glass stretch to the highest point of the ceiling. They’re not the type that tell a story or show a picture of anything in particular. Actually, they’re rather simple, plain and abstract, but there is something magnetic about them. The outside light reveals the beautiful bright colors of blue, red, orange and yellow with all of their different shapes and sizes. They are windows, not to see through, but to allow just enough light to illuminate sacred space and be seen.
From my seat next to the altar the windows appear like a large kaleidoscope—opening a world of imagination and wonder. In that liminal space, my mind is opened to new possibilities. It captivates my attention and compels me forward.
As I look closer, I imagine each piece as a broken left over from a project with better intentions. I can’t help but wonder how much that window resembles my own life and the lives of some of the veterans and active military members I serve.
We sometimes find ourselves at places in our lives that we never expected to be. We may look back and ask, “How did I get here?” or say, “I’m no longer what I once was.” And in our more private and scary times we can see nothing more beyond our thoughts of being broken, used up, useless. But through a simple exercise of looking at and thinking about those stained glass windows in that dark, cold and empty chapel we can see something new. Our minds begin to change and we look at our lives through a different lens.
It is beautiful how God can use every part of our life. Not a bit of it is wasted.
All of those moments in our lives that we wish to hide from or revel in—they are all critical to our story and the work that God wants to do through us. Those moments of failure, success, stupidity, shame, compassion, selfishness, selflessness—God uses all of it! It all belongs.
It is the window God has created to allow his light in to this broken and scary, dark and dingy world. God uses all of our story to shine through so that there may not only be light, but spectacular, awe-inspiring, magnetic light.
We become more resilient when we unplug for a moment and open ourselves up to the deeper truths within. It is in the acknowledgment of our experiences that the light begins to shine through. And it is in that space where we can see God’s creative work in the shattered places of our lives. Because God leaves no part of our life wasted. All of it is useful.
The more stories I hear, the more I become aware that my sacred space is in community with others. It’s in the hearing and connecting of the broken pieces of our lives that God speaks and unites us as one great people of God. Because that’s what God does. God chooses to connect my brokenness with the brokenness of another. And, that my friend, is a window God uses to shed light into this world and provide hope. Thanks be to God.
Chaplain Major Jeremy Wells is a CBF-endorsed chaplain serving with the United States Air Force at Beale Air Force Base in California.