U.S. Navy Capt. Denis Cox, the chaplain of 1st Marine Division, right, speaks to Gunnery Sgt. Chad Pulliam on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, May 19. Chaplains are the military's religious leaders, responsible for tending to the spiritual and moral well-being of service members and their families.

Leaving hospital rooms is always a mix of emotions. There’s the fulfillment of having had the opportunity to minister to a Marine in need. At times there lingers the question as to whether the ministry delivered was the ministry really needed. And still other times leave certain questions unanswered entirely. Such is ministry. Such is chaplaincy.

In the Christian tradition the “why” of ministry is inherent in our faith. Ministry, by definition, is service. We serve others with the same care we ourselves have received from our Lord. The “how’s” of ministrycan prove more complex. What is our role right now in a Marine’s life? Are we primarily pastors? Counselors? Care Coordinators? Friends? The one person who’s ever listened? Family liaison? Communication facilitator? Or perhaps several of these all at once?

All these thoughts rush at us in the moment, but also before and after we visit with a Marine. Upon departing from a hospital room on one occasion, with the Marine’s very life possibly in the balance, I prayerfully considered my role. I asked the Lord to give me wisdom for the days ahead, which would be touch and go with test results, doctors’ recommendations, and decisions to be made by the Marine and his family.

I had missed a meeting to visit my Marine, and my mind drifted to getting the info I had missed being passed. As I moved down the P-way to the elevators that would take me to the lobby and out to my car I looked up just in time to see a Marine sitting on a bench, looking worried, chewing a fingernail, looking vacantly off into the distance. I keep walking, because I’m an officer and have meetings and metrics to attend to. But then, almost as if commanded from someone stirring in my heart, I stop. I turn. The Marine looks up, sees my lieutenant’s bars on the right side of my collar, and tenses. I turn toward him, where my cross can contradict the effect. He looks up, eyes red. I ask, “Hey, how are you doing?”

A conversation follows. Connection. We talk about life, about Lincoln, NE, about a girlfriend, a stress fracture that won’t heal. We talk about coping with stress. We talk about resources. We talk about where God fits into any or all of this, if He exists at all in this Marine’s life. The chaplains, and the Marines and somewhere in the mix ministry occurs. We make a plan for follow up, with his chaplain involved. I continue down the p-way and out of the building, having now missed two meetings, but having met and ministered to two passing Marines.

*Note: The above are reflections of actual ministry that took place in different contexts with hypothetical, but quite common, presenting stressors. To my knowledge I’ve never counseled anyone from Lincoln, Nebraska.