As a hospice chaplain, I have the unique opportunity of sharing very meaningful experiences with patients. My primary role is to be a listener to a patient’s life story, addressing spirituality and faith as it is welcomed by the person I serve. As I come to know a patient’s faith tradition, I offer various practices that, hopefully, enhance that patient’s connection to what he or she considers divine.
One of these practices is prayer. Since my faith tradition teaches that the only genuine faith is a freely chosen faith, I approach hospice prayers very carefully. Some patients welcome my visit, but consider prayer too personal or sacred to practice in my presence. More than a few patients have declined my praying in their presence, but express appreciation when I say, “That’s fine. I’ll keep you in my prayers.”
To patients who welcome prayer, I seek first to honor their faith tradition’s prayer practices. For example, I often say to a Roman Catholic patient, “I’m going to pray for you right now,” after which we’ll close our visit with a saying of the “Our Father.” Or when a Jewish patient has welcomed prayer, I will choose a prayer text from the Psalms in the Hebrew Bible.
Prayers for the Dying
As with many of my chaplain colleagues, I often pray extemporaneous, more conversational prayers with my patients. While my intention is to be more spontaneous in the wording of such prayers, I often use similar phrases that honor most faith traditions while resonating with my own spirituality.
The following is a typical prayer I use with most hospice patients:
“God, thank you for being with us right now. We confess that we don’t understand why things happen the way they do. We don’t understand why illness comes into our lives, but we do know that you walk every path of life with us. Remind Joe that you are walking with him right now. Remind Joe that you love him, no matter what he is going through. I also pray for Joe’s family. Give them your strength as they care for Joe. God, we thank you that you never leave us, that you never forsake us, but you love us. We trust you, and pray this in your name. Amen.”
The above prayer has some key thoughts that I hope my hospice patient will hear:
- God is always present with us, even when we may not be experiencing that presence.
- As a chaplain, I don’t pretend to have the answers. I join with my patient in asking the “whys.”
- God is with my hospice patient, especially in suffering.
- Caregivers also experience God’s presence in caring for their loved one.
- I affirm my personal trust in God even when none of us have the answers.
It goes without saying that extemporaneous prayers often reflect who we are and open us up to our patients. It is my hope that the hospice patients I am privileged to serve hear who I am and what I believe when I pray for them.
My desire is that they may experience God with them when they allow me to pray.
Barry Pennington, DMin, BCC
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