Chaplaincy education is intense. Most Presbyterian ministers-in-training are required to go through it before ordination, most often in a hospital setting. It’s great preparation for ministry since you see lots of suffering and a good bit of death. You get to know families and patients and nurses and doctors and you witness some of the most difficult bits of life up close.
One of its most important lessons is you that you can’t survive in ministry alone. During the chaplaincy education process, you’re placed in a group of several other faith leaders-in-training to learn together. I trained with other Presbyterians, a Jewish cantor, a few Methodists, a Lutheran, an Episcopalian priest-to-be, and a Catholic lay woman.
As we gathered to debrief each week, our chaplaincy trainer had one rule: in our group conversations we each had to piggyback on one another’s experience, not contradict it.
So if I said, “It’s been a hard week. One of the patients I’ve grown close to has been in a lot of pain.”
Another chaplain couldn’t say, “Well I’ve had a great week!”
They could say, “It’s so hard to witness pain. I understand where you’re coming from.” We had to find connection points, not differences.
It took us a few weeks to figure it out. It was uncomfortable at first, as it’s really difficult not to redirect the conversation to whatever it is you want to talk about. Our supervisor stopped us frequently to reset.
“No,” she’d say patiently, “find a point to join with them.”
Then we got the hang of it and it was awesome. One of my fellow Presbyterians (I’ll call him Steve) started calling this the ninja rowboat exercise.
“I was proud of an interaction I had with a patient today,” one student said.
“Me, too! I’m in your boat, too!” Steve would say. “I’m rowing! I’m rowing so fast and so hard that I’m NINJA rowing!”
It’s good to have someone in your boat, isn’t it? Someone who gets it, who has been there, too (or is there, now!).
Who is in your boat? Who is ninja rowing with you these days?
For me it’s mommy friends (“I remember the four-month sleep regression! It’s the worrrrrrst!” said one to me this week), ministry friends, and writer friends. It’s so good to share stories, to come together, to feel less alone.
We so often focus on differences. It’s easier to do, more obvious. (After all, no one is quite as perfect as we are!)
But when we come together over things we share in common, however small, we begin to feel just a tiny bit less alone.
And this is a great, great thing.
Who needs someone in their boat this week? Let’s ninja row together!