This past week some of our pastoral team and I sat with a family who had just lost their son, brother and grandson. He took his own life.
As I spoke with his parents, sisters and grandparents, a deep feeling of inadequacy engulfed me. I didn’t know what to say. Any thought of a word offered felt like a drop in an ocean of grief. Inadequate, insufficient, unhelpful. I knew that light, trite or ill-chosen words would simply add layers to their grief.
This is how being a pastor feels much of the time to me. Drops of inadequacy in oceans of struggle. So often, we’re invited into situations on the back end, once the damage has already been done. The horse has bolted. It feels like trying to mop up a tsunami.
I’ve never felt such an acute sense of helplessness as I have these last two years.
I can’t bring a loved one back and I can’t create employment for the breadwinner who has been retrenched. I can’t take away someone’s physical pain as they suffer the ravages of disease, nor can I undo the abuse a child has suffered. I can’t fix the broken healthcare system, or alleviate anxiety, or lift depression or cure addiction.
I can’t do much, really.
And, strangely, mysteriously, that might just be the point.
I’m learning that the art and practice of simply listening well is what’s needed most. A focused, attentive, empathetic listening.
This “not doing much” practice of listening to the words and the heart of a person is deeply transformative and healing to the person being heard.
This inactive, “feels too passive” work of listening creates the space for the soul of the other to breathe.
We live in a loud world where big voices and even bigger egos seem to dominate. And yet, the listeners are the healers, the helpers, the heroes.
We live in a world where the devices we’re chained to clamour for our attention and prevent us from really listening to the real human beings in front of us. And yet it’s the analogue souls of those closest to us, wrapped in flesh and blood, made in God’s image, who really need our attention. To lift our heads from our screens, look them in the eye, and listen to their lives.
Listening. It’s powerful. It liberates us from the tyranny of doing; the messianic need to fix everything. It heals the soul of the person being heard. We learn to discern the storylines of our culture, and we open the expanse of our own soul to the whispers from heaven that come our way.
I want to become a listener.