Have you ever been tempted to respond to unwanted advice with your best Rhett Butler’s impression and say, “Frankly my dear….”


I’m sure you have. It’s a common response when we are the victim of hit-and-run advice giving. It’s a way of telling the opinionated busybody that they’ve not earned the right to be relevant in our lives.

I was on the damning end of such a response one afternoon some years back as I began my first job in hospital chaplaincy.


A nurse in our hospital’s surgical unit motioned me into the nurse’s station.Wanting to help her new chaplain, she pointed toward a patient’s room at the end of the hall. “I think she could use a visit from you.”

Grateful for the referral, I asked the nurse to tell me more.The nurse pulled me into her personal space and whispered, “Our patient’s waiting for her tests to come back.”


“Maybe I should wait for the tests before I visit,” I said. Her words were tight as she shook her head. “Our patient knows she has cancer, but she doesn’t know how bad it is. She won’t be alive this time next year.”


We both took a last look at our shoes before she dismissed me with her repeated warning. “Be careful, chaplain, she doesn’t know anything yet.”

A moment later, I walked into the darkened room to find a vibrant young woman who was just then awakening from a nap.


“Are you the doctor?” she asked. “No. I’m the chaplain,” I said. “God is good,” she said.

“God is good all the time!” I responded, giving the expected rejoinder of her religous tradition.

For a few minutes, we exchanged more platitudes of faith, but soon she admitted her disappointment. “I was hoping you were the doctor bringing my test results.”

“I understand,” I told her. “Waiting is hard.”

She nodded in agreement while wiping the trace of a tear.

I listened as she told the story of her sudden cancer diagnosis. “I know things are going to be all right. I know God will heal me.”

“Tell me why you think that is?” I gently asked.

“Well,” she said, her voice trailed. For a moment it seemed as if she was studying my hospital ID for my qualification to question God.

“You got to have faith, right?”

I must have responded with some kind of “yes-but” answer because she started pleading.

“I have so much yet to do,” she added.

I decided to press her a bit. Hoping to challenge her to see what was happening.

“What if you get bad news?”

“Like what?” she asked.

I paused. She knew what I meant.

And she knew I knew.

“You need to leave,” she commanded.


“Leave!” she said. “I thought chaplains were supposed to cheer people up, not bring them down.”

She was wrong about chaplains cheering people up. We aren’t cheerleaders.

But she was right to go full Rhett Butler on me. I’d tried to write myself into her spiritual script without first earning the right to be relevant.

It’s easy to make declarations to people, pronouncing what they should do, predicting where or why they will fail.

However, as I learned that day, our knowledge doesn’t always entitle us to tell them. If we hope to have any consequence in the lives of those we love, we must step only where invited. 

Otherwise, they will surely never “give a damn.”

Chaplain Norris Burkes began his chaplain career with both the active-duty Air Force and the Air National Guard until his retirement in 2014. He later served as a board-certified healthcare chaplain at Sutter Memorial, Kaiser, Methodist and Mather VA hospitals and continues to work with area Hospice. His column is syndicated to more than 35 accredited news outlets in multiple states, with www.folsomtimes.com being one of his newest additions.

Read past columns at www.thechaplain.net. Contact him at acomment@thechaplain.net or voicemail (843) 608-9715

*Views expressed in published guest commentaries are those of the author or submitting organization and do not necessarily represent those of Folsom Times or All Town Media, LLC. 

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Norris Burkes
Author: Norris Burkes