The difference between helping, fixing, and serving.

June 1, 2014

This summer, I am participating in a continuing education program at a hospital.  The program is called Clinical Pastoral Education (or CPE), and through the program I have the opportunity to serve as one of five chaplain interns.
During our first week, we had numerous orientations, seminars and trainings.  This on-boarding was likened to a fire hose (meaning we were receiving more information than we could take in).  However, one thing I did retain during that first week was discussing the difference between helping, fixing and serving.
As a chaplain, I am learning that my role is one of service.  I am not there to help or to fix anyone.  This goes against my desire to help and fix a situation when something is wrong.  But when I am meeting with patients, the reality is that I cannot help their suffering anymore than I can fix their ailments.  I am learning that just being present with people – a “ministry of presence” – is sometimes the only thing I can do.  And the only thing that is needed.
An article by Rachel Naomi Remen has been incredibly useful in distinguishing my role as a chaplain intern.  She writes:

“Helping is based on inequality; it is not a relationship between two equals.  When you help you use your own strength to help those of lesser strength….When I fix a person I perceive them as broken.  Fixing is a form of judgment…Service, on the other hand, is an experience of mystery, surrender and awe…[Therefore,] when you help you see life as weak, when you fix, you see life as broken.  When you serve, you see life as whole.”

Understanding my posture as a chaplain is also informing the way that I interact with my colleagues, friends and family.  I appreciate it more when others listen and understand me (serve), instead of quickly try to remedy my problem (fix) or think that they know what’s best for me (help).  Adopting this service-mindset initiates more relationship in a non-condescending and genuine way.
This is definitely a new way of thinking for me – so I appreciate any comments/feedback as well as critique/pushback!  See you in the comments 🙂


Picture of Annie Duncan

Annie Duncan