When I was ordained as a priest, the bishop anointed my hands. The bishop explained to me that my hands would be used by God for the work of ministry. At the time, I thought about various ways my hands might be used – for consecrating the Eucharist, for blessing the people, for baptizing the faithful, and for writing sermons and blog posts. What I had not fully understood was that my hands would become a lifeline of support, care, and love – an extension of Christ’s loving embrace. Though as an extrovert, I tend to rely on my words for ministry, there would be times when my words could not do the work – only my hands were needed.
The lesson was one that my chaplaincy supervisor had tried to teach me many years before. I had expressed to my supervisor how I was struggling with some of the non-verbal patients because I felt like I was paralyzed. By not being able to have a conversation, I felt like I was doing nothing. In fact, my visits with non-verbal patients tended to be the shortest. But one particular patient that summer helped me start to break through that fear. I had been visiting the patient off and on for a couple of weeks, when the nurses asked me to come for another visit. They were worried that the patient was not far from death. When I went to the patient’s room, the patient was groggy, but was able to speak a little. Sooner than I would have liked, the patient’s words were no longer available. Uncertain what to do next, I offered my hand to the patient. I was surprised at the force with which the patient grabbed my hand – squeezing so hard that had it been any other situation, I would have pulled away. But instead, I let the patient cling to my hand with a fierceness of emotion, and we sat there in silence for quite some time. Somehow, the strength of the grasp filled the room like a shout, and all the words that would have normally bubbled out of my mouth were finally silenced. Later, after leaving the room, I remember the strange sensation of my hands – as if I were seeing them for the first time.
I was reminded of that powerful lesson earlier this week. I was pumping while my six-month old was swinging in her swing. She was fussy, fighting off sleep with wails and writhing. I had tried soothing her with toys, a pacifier, and coos, but nothing was working. Finally she reached out her hand toward me, and I grasped it. I could not pick her up, but I could certainly hold her hand. As I rubbed the back of her tiny hand, smiling and looking lovingly into her eyes, my daughter slowly calmed down, and managed to give in to sleep. Though the feel of her hand in mine was totally different from the grasp of an adult, I became keenly aware of my hands once again. As she drifted off, my thoughts marveled at the many different ways Christ has used my hands over the years. Both in my vocation as priest and in my vocation as mother, God is constantly using me, literally using my hands, to be a blessing; and in return, filling me up with joy, renewed vigor, and peace.
When my chaplaincy supervisor warned me that I would not always be able to talk my way through situations, I resisted at first. I suppose words are my way of trying to exert some sense of control – in essence, my resistance in acknowledging Who is really in control. Several years later, I am so grateful for the encouragement to embrace that lesson. As God reminds me over and over Who is in charge within my vocations, I feel relief more than frustration. The burden of being in control is lifted. The failings of my words no longer feel like failings. And I am profoundly grateful for the gift of hands that have been anointed to do God’s work.