On my first shift as a full-time chaplain, I fell down on the job. I mean that literally. Before I even got into the hospital, I was walking down the steps in the parking garage, and I slipped. It had been raining all day, and the stairwell was open to the elements, leaving almost invisible puddles on some of the stairs. Luckily, I only had a couple of steps to slide to the bottom of the staircase but that landed me on my backside in a much bigger, muddier puddle. Did I mention that I had decided to wear a long, white skirt to my first night at work?

“Don’t wear white to work” was one of the first lessons I learned the hard way as a chaplain. It seems I have to learn a lot of things by experience. After a few rough interactions, I also learned “Always stay on the charge nurse’s good side” and “Take time to eat while you can.” Running afoul of hospital staff and ending up so hungry that you get grouchy are two things you do not want to do as a chaplain, especially at the same time.

Some lessons really required un-learning things that I had learned to do in other situations. Although it comes as second nature to so many of us, I quickly came to understand why “Don’t reassure people that everything will be okay” are good words to live by in a hospital. Very often my job means meeting people in situations where everything will most definitely not be okay. Although for many of us saying nothing is extremely uncomfortable, I had to learn “Not every silence needs to be filled.” It is often those scary, empty silences that make more room for God. That may be the most important lesson I have learned in my years as a chaplain so far, and it is as true for me as it is for my patients: “You are not alone. God is here, and that makes all the difference.”

Stacy N. Sergent is a graduate of the School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University. She is a CBF-endorsed chaplain at MUSC Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina. Her first book is Being Called Chaplain: How I Lost My Name and (Eventually) Found My Faith.