Gertrude (not her real name) was sitting on the side of her hospital bed in a nursing home. The hospice team spoke of her as being an angry person who lashed out at everyone, including her three grown sons.
I introduced myself, “I am the hospice chaplain. My name is Judy and I understand that you asked to see me.”
“Shut up. Sit down and behave yourself!”
I sat down in the chair just inside the doorway to her room. We observed silence while Gertrude considered me.
“How can I reach God” she asked in a soft voice. “I want to know that God is with me.”
I quietly and gently came close to her, “Here are some prayers that will help you ‘God be with me,’ or ‘God let me know that you are with me.’ Which one do you prefer or are there other words that would be helpful?”
Gertrude thought about it, “God be with me always.”
I suggested that she use her prayer frequently through the day, to write it down so she could see it, and maybe use it when she looked at the time or when she ate.
Looking into my eyes, she said in a whisper, “You can go now.”
A few days later the hospice nurses reported that Gertrude was becoming more relaxed, less combative and seemed to be accepting of what was happening to her.
The prayer that Gertrude formed is called a Breath Prayer because it flows with the breath. Usually when I guide someone in forming their own Breath Prayer, I ask “What is your favored name for God?” Gertrude told me without my asking. Then I ask what do you want? Gertrude was articulate in what she wanted. It was short, just right to use with the breath in and out. I needn’t instruct her, but I did suggest when and how to use her prayer.