I love it when I get a chance to make someone’s day a little bit brighter. And when that opportunity comes in the middle of their darkest hours, when they are torn up by relationship problems or grief and loss or wrestling with illness and injury, then I can find myself awed and humbled and deeply grateful that I get to walk alongside them at such a significant moment. And make a difference.
There are lots of ways of making a difference, from the slickest, smart-alec social-worker techniques, to the very simple (and frequently far more effective) confession that I’m stuck too, and maybe we could pray together about it. Pastoral care, at its most effective, is the humble sharing in people’s pain and a persistent pointing to Christ. Silence and prayer keep us grounded in the hopeful reality of the kingdom.
And then there’s chocolate. Never underestimate the power of chocolate to put a smile on some-one’s face. On its own, it doesn’t mean much, but after an hour of sharing someone’s pain with them, a bar of chocolate is the cherry on the cake!
Of course, I have theological backing for this! My very first lecture in theology is indelibly printed on my mind. I had enrolled in Bible College as an independent student, doing one paper per semester, to try to regain my love and appreciation for the scriptures in the midst of all the questions and doubts that I was having. The scripture paper was in the second semester, so in the first I enrolled in the ‘introduction to theology’ paper, taught by the venerable principal of the college. This was my first encounter with this very highly esteemed man. He began by talking about ‘world-views’, how we all had one (or more) and how they could be seen as arising out of different and mutually incompatible philosophical bases. "For instance", he said, "there is the scientistic world view, that believes the only valid reality is that which can be physically measured, and that everything can be explained in terms of its material components. If you ask them to explain ‘love’ they say that ‘love’ is a chemical reaction in the brain – there’s even a name for this chemical – phenylethylamine. And where do you find this substance? In chocolate! Which is why," he said, "I give my wife a piece of chocolate each night when we go to bed. And some nights I give her two." The next year I enrolled as a full-time denominational student. This man spoke to me.
Going back even further, I remember the very first sermon of an elderly Presbyterian minister who arrived about the time I started getting interested in spiritual things (and therefore attended church occasionally with my mother). He began by introducing himself, and said there were two things he felt we needed to know about him. I can’t remember the first (this was nearly thirty years ago now) but the second was "..and I like chocolate biscuits." And it was true. Over the years that followed, as he became a friend and a mentor to me, had me around to tea and argued theology, comforted me when my father died, tempered my enthusiasms with wisdom, and encouraged me when I was down, there was always a plate of chocolate biscuits at hand. He made a difference.
Thank God for Chocolate.