Saints’ Stories as Pastoral Care

One night this week, a woman asked me why God had allowed her to be hospitalized near death when all she had ever tried to do in life was to serve God.

In the course of our conversation, I told her a story: “There was once a woman of God named Saint Teresa, one of the saint Teresas. As she was journeying one day, her horse reared up and threw her into the mud. And from the ground she yelled out at God, ‘If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!'”

I love that story, and my patient was Lutheran and she knew the story too, and she then shared with me a couple other stories of saints. Soon we were in a different place than our starting point: she knew that her story was particular but that she was not alone in it.

This experience has me wondering if one facet of bringing the Christian Tradition to bear on pastoral care is knowing those stories of the saints better. Actually, I find myself wondering why I’ve heard so little talk of it in my own pastoral care training, reading, and conversations. Everyone is talking about narrative, but we so underuse both the stories of Scripture and the stories of the saints. Something is short-circuiting intellectually inside of us: we are excited to talk about the centrality of narrative to human experience and meaning-making, but we fail to notice that the stories of the saints are all about human experience and meaning-making. That is, after all, why they have been so important to popular Christian spirituality since there has been something called “Christianity.”

So why not bring the stories of the saints back to bear in ministry? Just a note: the answer that they are too primitive or premodern or unsophisticated for us is the wrong answer.