Although it can be stressful at times, my job in stroke rehabilitation as a Speech-Language Pathologist/Therapist (SLP/T) is highly rewarding. I have the privilege of helping people relearn communication skills. For me, the ability to communicate skillfully is one of the most important parts of being human.
There is a part to my job, however, that I do not find as pleasant: Education.
As a general rule, the public at large thinks that speech therapy is only important for those who have difficulties with pronunciation and are difficult to understand. Although this is, indeed, an important aspect of my job, communication is far broader than this. It includes our abilities to understand, to read and write, and to be able to recall the words we want to say. And all of these things are impacted by such basic cognitive skills as memory, attention, problem solving, reasoning and pragmatics.
As a result of this broad scope of practice, approximately 90% of the stroke survivors who are referred to me require speech therapy. Unfortunately, only about 25% of these survivors realize they need it, and the first words out of the mouths of the other 75% are usually along the lines of telling me that there is nothing wrong with their speech. They then usually go on to express their surprise–and often their anger–at having to “waste” their time on speech therapy. They do not understand that according to an individual’s needs, speech therapy can work together and augment physical and occupational therapies.
My first job, then, has nothing to do with helping them with their communication difficulties; rather, I usually spend the first couple of sessions providing them with education. Once they understand that they do have stroke-related deficits that fall under my scope of practice, most of them are eager to participate. Nonetheless, it is only after all that education that we are actually able to begin assessing and treating the problems. It seems like such a waste of precious therapy time; however, a problem cannot begin to be fixed unless the patient realizes he or she has one.
The same is true in ministry. Just as I have two parts to my job, therapy and education, we have been given a two-fold mandate.
First of all, we are to: “…Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (2 Thess. 5:11 NIV. See also 1 Cor. 14:26; Heb. 10:24-25; Col. 3:16, etc.). Just like I work to help people grow and develop their communication skills, we all have a responsibility of helping our fellow followers of Christ desire to grow, develop, and mature in their walk with the Lord.
For many Christian mentors, helping others grow in the Lord is the “easy” part of the job. It is not, however, all that we are asked to do, and the second part can be a bit more difficult: Just like I, as an SLP/T, must try to convince my patients that they have communication difficulties and need speech therapy, our first responsibility to the Lord’s work is to help people understand they have a sin-problem and that they need a Saviour. Isn’t this what the Great Commission is all about? “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19-20a NIV) And in case Jesus’ final words aren’t enough motivation for us, there are many other texts in the Bible that encourage us to witness: “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NIV. See also Acts 9:15-16, 13:30-31, 1 Peter 2:9, etc.)
Witnessing, however, doesn’t come easily for most of us, and we have to ask ourselves “why”. Don’t we want them to be saved? Don’t we love them enough?
In my work, I can get very tired of always having to defend my scope of practice. Sometimes I don’t even want to go up to a new patient because I already know what they are thinking: “Another SLP/T that I don’t need!” I suppose it could sometimes be said that I am afraid of their rejection.
I think the fear of rejection is also often a key reason why we are hesitant to witness. However, when we let our own fear of rejection and ridicule stop us from witnessing about Jesus, we are putting our own needs and feelings above the needs of others. We are told that all fear has its roots in lack of love: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…” (1 John 4:18 NIV). Therefore, when our fear of ridicule and rejection keeps us from witnessing, is it, perhaps, a sign that we truly don’t truly love in the way Jesus asks us to!
One last parallel between my job as an SLP/T and ministry: Studies have shown that it is in the early stages following a stroke that therapy can have the greatest impact. Thus, it is important to begin speech therapy as soon as possible. Isaiah 55:6 tells us: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” (NIV). This suggests that there is a limited amount of time for us to be able to teach others about God!
I don’t know about you, but I think I will try to put my time and effort, not just into helping those who already know the Lord to grow in their Faith, but also into bringing knowledge about Jesus to those who have no knowledge of Him!
Will you join me?
In His love,
Lynona Gordon Chaffart, Speech-Language Pathologist, mother of two, Author — “Aboard God’s Train — A Journey With God Through the Valley of Cancer”, Author and Moderator for The Nugget, a tri-weekly internet newsletter, and Scriptural Nuggets, a website devoted to Christian devotionals and inspirational poems, with Answers2Prayer Ministries. Follow Lyn on Twitter @lynchaffart.