From the Rev: Like a Sump Pump

Sump pump

Being a chaplain feel a lot like being a sump pump.

Living in Colorado, we’ve experienced quite a bit of rain – more than usual. It’s mid-June and I have yet to turn on the sprinklers to water the yard and my house sump pump is constantly going off and dispelling water into my front lawn. Laying in bed in the quiet of the night, the sound of the sump pump going off is unmistakable – my wife likens it to airplane wheels rattling on landing. Okay. I admit – it’s a weird title for a blog reflection, but in thinking about what a chaplain is for people, sometimes it means being a lot like a sump pump. Let me try to explain what I mean.

Like a Sump Pump: Water and Foundation

If you know much about water and home foundations, especially in Colorado the two don’t go well together. Our soil is much like clay – expanding, unable to hold much water. Therefore, water and house foundations don’t do very well with each other. The soil can push and pressure the foundations of homes causing cracks and shifts in the foundations. When you add in water and cold (ice and snow), the results can be magnified and devastating. Usually, the effects are seen in doors getting stuck in the jambs and small cracks around window edges and windows that won’t shut; more dramatic is when the house leans or tilt. When a home is also down hill, there can be a lot of water run off that can get down around the foundation and cause lots of problems – thus the need for the sump pump (and a good drainage system).

If you look closely at the picture above you can see two tubes coming into the sump pump well and the rounded top of the sump pump itself. These drainage tubes surround the house foundation and bring water from around the foundation into the pump well. When the water level reaches a certain height the sump pump triggers and flushes the water some 10 feet vertically and out away from the house.

Like a Sump Pump: The Work of a Chaplain

In a similar way, a chaplain, as we walk alongside of people, is helping to collect and flush out the dangerous and damaging things that begin to collect around the foundations of people’s lives. It can be unworked through issues of grief and loss, forgiveness, unfaithfulness, or other kinds of crisis.

As a chaplain, I am trained and experienced in the art of offering spiritual guidance, counsel, and  pastoral care. In my role, we utilize different techniques and interventions that are involved in the “collection” of the water that surrounds the foundation of a person’s soul. Imperative to this work is the art of listening and being present – these interventions are difficult to master and counter-cultural to the way most of the world operates.  The listening and presence aspects that a chaplain brings can help to uncover what, for some people, they may be unaware of (much like water collecting around the foundation of a house – deep and unseen).

Like a Sump Pump: Almost Always Submerged

As a chaplain, we face a tension, though, because we are almost always finding ourselves (like the pump) submerged in the different problems and issues of the people we serve. It can be taxing and overwhelming at times to “carry” the burdens of so many. For anyone involved in spiritual care, it makes self-care and boundaries important values. We sometimes have to get out of the issues in order to care for our own families or our own self – it sometimes involves shutting off the phone or disconnecting for awhile. As a friend in ministry once said,

The one who is always available, soon has nothing left to offer, nothing left to give.

There are necessary times of rest – when we must quit the working of ministry (it will always be there) and tend to our own soul.

Like a Sump Pump: Sometimes Overwhelmed

I’ve noticed, too, that sometimes the sump pump becomes overwhelmed. Whether it is sediment that gets trapped within the pump housing or if the water overwhelms the pumps operating capacity or if something blocks the exit pipe – there are times when the pump gets “stuck” or stops working as it should.

There are many times when I have felt overwhelmed and “stuck” by the amount of problems and issues that have come pouring in. Sometimes the load is beyond my capacity or I cannot see clearly how to help a person dispel the water from around their heart’s foundation. It is in these moments that I sometimes must be shaken or moved divinely to see how an exit or solution might be found.

I am appreciative of those, Spirit-led moments in a counseling situation where God seems to bring a story or wisdom or insight to light and there is an affirmation as it resonates with a person sitting across from me. It is then that I know, not necessarily by my own skill or effort, that the Divine sump pump work of my calling is helping to flush out the deadly and dangerous buildup that threatens the foundations of the precious souls that I have been called to serve.

I pray that you, in your life, have a “pump sump” kind of person who can help collect and flush out the flooding waters of life that threaten your soul.







Rev. Brad Kenney

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