This is another preacher story–one of those stories we love to use in sermons but have to change enough details so that no one really recognizes the people involved. In this story, I am on a mission–a parishioner has had an accident and has suffered some injury. She slipped on some ice and ended up lying in the cold for a time because her injuries prevented her from getting up on her own. Since she, like most of my parishioners, is elderly, I figured that she would have lots of worries, anxieties and stuff resulting from the fall, lying in the cold for so long and the further limits on her life style because of her injuries. Like a good pastor, I wanted to help her as much as I could.
As the visit progressed, I used all the pastoral care techniques and approaches to give her the opportunity to talk about anything coming out of the experience that was bothering her. I anticipated fear, anger, anxiety, frustration, depression–all things that I has seen in similar situations over the years. Instead of this long and expected list of issues, there was really only one thing that she wanted to talk about and needed help with.
She was required to rest and take it easy and so she and her friends had made her a nest in her living room, using her recliner as a base. Everything she needed was close at hand: her books, the TV remote, the radio, the portable phone. Friends were dropping in the check on her, get her meals and just to chat. She was feeling secure, comfortable and cared for, except for one real issue.
Something sharp was sticking into her ankle every time she moved in her chair. None of her friends could figure out what it was for sure and even the ones who could find the sharp object didn’t have the tools to deal with it. Her cozy nest was much less cozy and the sharp point was fast becoming a major irritant. She asked me to take a look, just as she had been asking everyone who came in.
I quickly located the object and identified it as an upholstery staple that has come loose on one end. She then asked if there was anything I could do about it. With her permission, I pulled my multi-tool out of its pouch and pulled the offending staple out of the chair The staple was tossed into the garbage can, the problem was solved and all the anticipated problems simply weren’t issues that day–and I checked carefully, using all the pastoral care stuff I have learned over the years.
There is a point to this story beyond the obvious one that all pastors should carry a multi-tool or Swiss army knife for such emergencies. The point is that in the end, only this lady knew what her problem was and only she could identify it. As a contentious and caring pastor, I visited with a long list of possible things I would run into, a list that was valid based on my experience and research–in many similar situations in the past, I had helped surface and deal with lots of those issues.
Having that mental list wasn’t a problem–it is sort of the mental equivalent of the multi-tool I happened to have with me that day. Should the issue present itself, I was mentally prepared to help deal with it. The problem would come in if and when I assumed that she must have some of the issues I was prepared for and kept looking for them, even trying to solve them for her before I even knew what the real problem was.
That particular day, the only thing she needed was someone with pliers and enough strength to pull out an upholstery staple. All the other issues I anticipated were either non-issues for her or had been taken care of by others. My visit as a pastor was appreciated as was the prayer I offered at the end of the visit–but the best pastoral work I did that day was use my multi-tool to pull out a staple.
As a pastor, I would prefer to pull a staple that is a real problem rather than waste her time and mine trying to fix problems that she doesn’t have and therefore doesn’t need help for.
May the peace of God be with you.