As Adie Johnson reflected on her past year as a chaplain at St. Joseph Hospital in Denver, Colo., she noted the many times she was confronted with the saying “God will not give you more than you can handle.”
“I firmly believe that is neither true nor biblical,” Johnson said. “We often get more than we can handle.”
The past year has proven that. Johnson vividly remembers the fear, disorientation, and confusion she and others felt as the hospital shifted to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At first, due to the personal protective equipment shortage, we chaplains were asked to not go into COVID rooms, even at a death,” she said. At the time, not even patients’ family members were allowed to visit.
“Some patients were still conscious as they were dying, and to have no family with them injured all the staff to watch,” Johnson recalled, noting that watching someone die alone was traumatizing and painful, especially for those trained to walk alongside patients and families during these times.
Eventually, a nurse or chaplain was permitted to go into a COVID room to hold an iPad so a patient could see their loved ones. Later, visitors could be in the room at the end of a patient’s life, but Johnson said the trauma of those early days scarred her and other staff. The stress of serving those in need during an escalating crisis for months on end was also trying and stressful.
“By far the most horrendous time for us here at St. Joe’s, beyond that initial shock wave, was the first week of December,” Johnson said. “Our (infection) numbers were skyrocketing again, everyone was exhausted, many staff were getting sick, the ICU was understaffed, nurses were quitting, and we as chaplains could hardly keep up with the deaths.”
But even in these times of having too much to handle, Johnson could see God at work.
“God was active in the little acts of kindness, sacrifice, and caring I witnessed, from the housekeepers who went in to clean COVID rooms and interacted with patients with deep attention, to physicians racking their brains for ways to help these super-ill patients,” she said.
“God was present in the support from the community that came as cards, meals, masks, musicians outside the front of the hospital, and chalk drawings on our sidewalks.”
Through the fellowship and care of fellow chaplains, hospital staff, the Christian Reformed Chaplaincy & Care Ministry, and the surrounding community, Johnson said she felt supported, valued and never alone during what was one of the hardest years of her life—a year when many faced more than they could handle.
Over the years, Johnson has learned to anchor herself with 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 when someone expresses the opinion that “God won’t give us more than we can handle.”
“Paul flat-out says their experiences were far beyond their ability to endure—in fact, they thought they were going to die!” Johnson explained. “But I love even more what he learned from that experience of getting more than they could handle—that God ‘has delivered us … and he will deliver us again.’ They set their hope on him, and so should we.”
The CRCNA has 150 chaplains, such as Johnson, serving in hospitals, military settings, prisons, and other places around the world. Please continue to keep them in your prayers.