What bubbles taught me about prayer
Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is education to teach pastoral care to clergy and others. CPE is the primary method of training hospital and hospice chaplains and Spiritual Care Providers. My summer internship was spent in the ten week CPE program at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. My cohort consisted of ten colleagues; eight of us were from the divinity school at Wake Forest and two individuals were ministers in the community. The cohort model strives for diversity, making for rich discussion and learning outcomes. We were given two weeks of orientation and the remaining eight would be a combination of peer groups, lectures, didactics, workshops and clinical time spent on units with patients.
The first days of orientation and training we were assigned our units. My units for the summer were an adolescent medical unit and a combined floor that included general rehabilitation and acquired brain injury patients. One story illustrates my learning and continued formation as a minister and student here at Wake Forest.
One particular week, I was struggling to connect with a patient on the ABI (Acquired Brain Injury) Unit. I had met with her multiple times and she always wanted a prayer. Her brain injury caused short-term issues with memory and she was unable to retain information. Each day I visited her, we would pray, multiple times. I would conclude the prayer and she would ask me to pray…again. She was unaware that we had already prayed. In fact, she thought she was asking for the first time and would become agitated if I explained to her that we had already prayed that day.
After five or six days, I too was becoming frustrated and agitated with my own abilities to do the basic chaplain task of prayer with a patient. I voiced concern to the unit psychologist, my peer group, and my supervisor. I simply felt powerless to reach this woman who desperately desired to pray with her chaplain.
Sometime into our program, we had a seminar (didactic) on play. We colored, painted, played games and clinically examined the importance of play in health and spirituality. That afternoon, I felt inspired. I purchased some bubbles at the hospital gift shop. They were Crayola bubbles, so they were various colors. I started out to do my afternoon patient visits and took the bubbles with me to the one of my pediatric units. I blew the colored bubbles at the nurse’s station, in patient rooms, and in common areas. The bubbles were a hit…I tucked them in my bag and began the trek across campus to visit my other unit.
On the way over, I began lamenting. What if I couldn’t reach her? What if she got upset again? I prayed for an answer. I prayed James 5:15, “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.”
During my initial time at the hospital, I dreaded the physical distance between my assigned units. This day, it took the entire walk, 2,600 steps to be exact, for me to hear God’s reply. The Bubbles. I’m not sure I liked the answer.
I walked onto the unit and the patient was actually sitting in a lounge area outside of her room. I quietly sat down next to her and began blowing bubbles. The yellow bubbles filled the air and I was skeptical of their power, but I kept blowing. After about three or four rounds of bubble blowing, my patient spoke. She said simply, “Oh, how I loved bubbles when I was a child.” Together we blew bubbles for about fifteen minutes. She was tired by the end and grew distant; we said goodbye.
The next day, I came onto the unit and the charge nurse asked me about bubbles and said the patient had been talking about bubbles all morning. They thought she might be suffering from moments of dementia. I explained our brief interaction from yesterday. The nurse said, “Chaplain, do you you know what this means?” It meant that the patient was remembering something from the day before. We charted our notes and and contacted the psychologist. That day I visited the patient and she simply asked, “Did you bring the bubbles?” I did. I brought them everyday, and no matter how short the visit we blew bubbles. The patient went on to a rehabilitation facility, but my experience with her has changed the way I understand relationship, God, and ministry.
What is prayer? Well, sometimes it is spoken word directed to the divine. Sometimes it’s a long walk across a hospital campus. Sometimes prayer is a deep breath. That day, both the prayer and God’s answer to it was bubbles. If you ever need a prayer, I may not have the right words. But, I hope you will let me share the story of how one day I prayed with bubbles.
Monica is the Director of Youth and Children’s Ministry at Kingwood United Methodist Church in Rural Hall, NC. She is a wife and mother, and is passionate about the integration of food and faith into ministerial practices.