Throughout my time in the hospital I have gone to visit children and families, only to discover a little one all alone in his or her room, staring up at a mobile, or fussing with no adult to comfort them. This is disconcerting for me, as a parent, and I often wonder how best to help. I yearn to pick the little one up and cuddle them, but I don’t know how sick they are and if this is even permissible. I look for a nurse to tell me something about the family, but often they are busy with other patients.
In the beginning I would simply walk past and look for a patient or family with whom I could talk, but it never felt right just walking past those little ones all alone in the hospital. After a while I started going in to visit anyway, and would play with the little one or sing little songs. I sing all the little songs I used to sing with my children: “The Itsy, Bitsy Spider”, “Twinkle, Twinkle,” “Jesus loves me,” and even some of the made up songs we used to sing to the tunes my daughter learned when she took Suzuki piano. My children will appreciate knowing that I made a little two year old laugh yesterday when I sang, “Wake up, Shake up, Take off your pajamas. Eat your breakfast, time to go to school”, one of those silly little songs our family sang for weeks as our daughter learned to play it on the piano. When I sing, the children stop fussing. Their eyes shine and if they are old enough they will clap at the end of each song. Still, I have struggled with the worry that a parent would be offended in some way that this strange chaplain was singing and playing with their child without permission.
I’ve been here long enough, I guess, that I have stopped worrying about that. And lately, I have been trying something new. Knowing that often the best thing for a baby developmentally is for a parent or caregiver to simply talk and tell stories to them, I’ve started doing just that. I still sing “Twinkle, twinkle little star” and “The Itsy, Bitsy, spider.” But then I quietly begin to tell them a parable – sometimes more then one.
No matter how old – just a few months, or a year or more – I have discovered that they love this storytelling. They get very quiet and look intensely at me, sometimes smiling, but usually just seriously listening. I firmly believe that God is made present to us when we read or listen to Scripture. I know I feel God’s presence as I speak the words and look into those little eyes. I wonder….how does that work when the person is too young to understand the words? Do you need to understand in order to feel God’s presence? I wonder…
My prayer each morning as I exit the garage and walk across the sky-bridge to the hospital is, “God, guide my feet today. Lead me to the families and children who most need me.” I believe these encounters with these babies are answers to that prayer, and I am grateful for these holy moments.