Chaplain's Corner


  • Larry Hirst, Author
  • Retired Chaplain, Bethesda Place

I have been caring for people spiritually my entire career, in May I will complete forty years in pastoral/spiritual care work. I have never been much of an organizational person. Not that I don’t understand the value of good organization, I do; it is just that the way I have been put together I’m much more focused on the individual than the system (both an asset and a liability I’ll be the first to admit).

Occasionally I get overwhelmed with the way in which the organization with its policies, processes and best intentions fails the individual. I understand why, systems are created to address the needs of the norm not the exception and systems often do a great job dealing with the norm but not such a great job dealing with the exception. On the other hand, if I am honest about the reality of who I am and the exceptional needs that at times present themselves to us, I find myself called upon to support and assist those folks who are exceptional and I engage willingly.

This however calls for “creative care”. Care that pushes, not rebelliously but knowingly, beyond the organizational boundaries that when caring for the “norm” would not be crossed. I always do this cautiously and often fearfully, but I do this because ethical care demands that something be done. The poignant passage in James 2:15-16 provides my authority that guides such boundary crossings: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”

At the same time, great caution must be exercised, for there are at times needs so great that I do not have the capacity to meet them and pushing the boundary does not at all mean that boundaries do not continue to exist. There will always be the boundary of good ethics: especially respecting the autonomy of the other and not becoming paternalistic in the care provided; the twin boundaries of beneficence and maleficence; and the boundaries of integrity and justice that need to be respected. Organizational boundaries at times are more restrictive than ethical boundaries creating this reality in which pushing past the boundary into the broader ethical ground becomes necessary.

Another caution that I find myself having to live with is the caution raised by my own personal boundaries: the limitations that exits because I am a limited person with limited mental, emotional and physical strength and limited resources. To push beyond these boundaries could lead to personal catastrophe that would “take a person out of the game.” That would not benefit anyone.

As I approach retirement, I am realizing that my capacities are beginning to wane, especially my capacity to work with people with exceptional needs and personally deal with not being able to care the way I would like to. Recognizing this is important in several respects. It is important that I not “blame” someone or something for my growing limitations. This is easy to do but not honest. It is also important that I not just accept, but embrace my limitations. They are, after all, an expression of who I am at this moment and accepting others begins with accepting myself. Then, I must understand that the limitations that boundaries mark are simply a reminder that we are finite. It is at these moments when we run into the limits – organizational, ethical and personal that we have the opportunity to open our hearts to the One with no limits – the Infinite, the Eternal – God.

So as I embrace my flagging limits and the ending of a long career of helping others I am beginning to embrace the change that is coming without fear, knowing that the One who guided my life throughout the last 64 years will continue to do so until my time on earth comes to an end.

Chaplain's Corner was written by Bethesda Place now retired chaplain Larry Hirst. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely that of the writer and do not represent the views or opinions of people, institutions or organizations that the writer may have been associated with professionally.