Guard Your Heart

Today’s post is the fourth in a series of guest posts centered around my church’s annual theme of “Healthy Hearts”. This month’s contributor is Kevin Griffith. His full bio is at the bottom of the post, but here’s a brief intro…

I crossed paths with Kevin at Harding School of Theology. I don’t think we had any classes together, but we both lived on campus and spoke to each other occasionally. Unlike most students living in campus housing Kevin and Michele had kids!! It kinda made them stand out. 🙂 Kevin was also different because he came to grad school with plenty of ministry experience under his belt, it wasn’t just all theory.

I have great respect for the work that chaplains do. I would not do well at it.They approach people at some of the most difficult times of their lives and seek to speak God’s comfort and peace into those lives. In most cases there’s a constant turnover and few opportunities to see long-term fruit from the emotional energy they invest. I am grateful to Kevin and others who serve in this role of truly shining God’s light into darkness and making the world a better place.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

— Proverbs 4:23

Working as a Staff Chaplain in the 2nd busiest trauma center in the nation has its unique challenges, but I love my job. Each night I pass through the halls of the Elvis Presley Memorial Trauma Center connecting with families, patients and staff. Boring nights are few and far between, and welcomed by me and the staff. Each time I pass through the Trauma ICU I am reminded just how precious and how fragile life is – and how suddenly it can all change.

Working here has made me appreciate the simple things in life and it has made me realize just how blessed I am. However, working here does have its price as well. Like any other job it can become just another hum drum day at the office. Because death is a constant companion (I’ve stood at the bedside of almost 700 deaths in the past six plus years) I can become easily desensitized or even jaded. Although I may not be personally involved, I have to constantly guard my heart and not allow myself to forget I am dealing with family members who have just lost a loved one. I must strive to be an emotional support and a spiritual ambassador – sometimes the only representative of God in the room. I must guard my heart.

The same can be said of a patient that is, in my estimation, in fairly good shape considering some of the more serious cases I have dealt with in the past. It’s easy for me to forget that those that are not as seriously ill as others are also human beings in need of a consoling touch, a listening ear and a sympathetic heart. In chaplain circles we call it being “fully present.” Being “fully present”, in my estimation, is exactly what we find Jesus doing in the Scriptures as he interacts with all those who come into his realm of influence. He not only listens to them with his ears, he listens to them with his eyes and his heart as well. And yet he chastises the smug, the arrogant and the self-righteous that come within earshot. I must guard my heart.

Not only can the job become hum drum and death all-too-familiar, but also the anxiety of others can take its toll on my attitude. Working in a trauma center will test you, sometimes more than wanted.  Scripture tells us: “An anxious heart weighs a man down.” (Proverbs 12:25) Those that administer care to the seriously ill sometimes suffer from a condition known as “Compassion Fatigue.” So, I must constantly be on guard and remind myself that I choose how I react to the stress and anxiety of others. I can choose to be caught up in all the craziness that surrounds me, or I can choose to be a calming presence. I can choose to take things that are said in the “heat of the moment” as personal attacks, or I can choose to understand that people and staff members in “crisis” often say and do things without thinking. If I am not careful I will find myself responding in kind to these perceived attacks and undermine all that I am attempting to accomplish as God’s representative. I must guard my heart.

All too often I am more like the proverbial “frog in the kettle” — as the temperature rises and I happily sit and boil, smug in my own self-confidence that all is okay and I am in control. And this brings me to another point — the deceitfulness of the heart. We find in Jeremiah 17:9 a very interesting verse which makes this point — “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Indeed, who can understand their own heart, then alone the hearts (i.e., motives) of others?

So just how do I guard my heart against this?

First, Luke tells us that the good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart that out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. So what is it that you put into your heart? If I am to guard my heart I believe I must take specific steps to fill it with good rather than evil. The beginning place for me is in the Scriptures. The Bible is my source of all things good and I endeavor to spend time in it daily. Will this make me perfect? By no means! But I believe it will get me closer to the goal of having a pure heart – a heart that endeavors to please God with my words and actions. I choose to treasure God’s Word – for in doing so I find my heart there.

Second, I believe it important for me to live a prayerful life. By “prayerful” I do not necessarily mean sitting down and spending an hour or two on my knees – I wish I had the time and the discipline to make that happen. However, what I do mean is to be in conversation with God every minute I am possibly able. As I walk through the Trauma Intensive Care Unit, I see many of my patients who are unconscious, on ventilators or even in a coma. I do not make a spectacle of myself, but I do pray for them, even if it is just a short breath prayer of healing and peace. I believe prayer changes things – if nothing else, it guards and changes my heart, and draws me ever closer to God.

Third, I must remember that out of the abundance of my heart my mouth speaks. That is to say the words I speak, and the thoughts I choose to share, are brought forth from the well-spring of my heart. If I am having difficulty with saying inappropriate things or even if I am the saying the right thing in the wrong way, then I know I need to stop and examine just exactly what I have been putting into my heart.

Bio: Kevin Griffith is a Staff Chaplain at the Regional Medical Center in Memphis, TN. He obtained his BA in Bible from Lubbock Christian College (now University) and served churches of Christ for almost 15 years in Texas and California in the capacity of Youth and Family Minister. In 2001 Kevin moved his family to Memphis so he could complete his Masters of Divinity degree. Having completed this degree in 2005, Kevin enrolled in Clinical Pastoral Education for a year in order to train for a career in Chaplaincy. In September 2007 he began working at the Elvis Presley Memorial Trauma Center, a part of the Regional Medical Center, and serves there to this day. He has been married to Michele Roder Griffith, a graduate of Harding University, for 22 plus years. They have four children: Shelby (18) a freshman at Harding University; Peyton (14); Abby (11); and Levi (9). Kevin and his wife home school their children.

If this article has encouraged you, please return the favour by leaving a comment to let Kevin know. Or perhaps you have questions or comments. I know Kevin will check in and respond. So don’t be shy!

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3 comments

  1. Mary Burke

    To Chaplain Griffith,
    I love this write up, it touch my heart by just reading what You have stated.
    May God continue bless you in kingdom work.
    Mary

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