Friday, May 30, 2014

Listening is Loving

By nature, I'm a solution-oriented person. When I come across a problem, my Pennsylvania German genes go into overdrive and I analyze, assess and then make a plan. Then I organize resources and people and execute the plan; if it doesn't work, I re-analyze, re-assess, and re-plan, and go at it again. I love this sort of work, and I share that love with my father and three brothers, who, all four of them, are engineers and builders. We're just a solution-oriented family.

Which is why pastoral care, the part of my job where my job is to just be present, is the hardest part of my job. Yesterday morning I found myself sitting across from a woman at a free breakfast in a church basement on Capitol Hill. I was introduced to her as a pastor, and within seconds words started tumbling out of her. I sat and listened to her pain, confusion, her story of abuse and neglect, her anguish as to why a God who was supposed to love her would let what happened to her happen, and witnessed the tears streaming down her face. And her story was truly horrible, a story of evil come to wreak havoc in the world by people who should have loved and protected her. I spent a year at a torture abolition non-profit; I've heard horrific stories. This was up there, and this was a story of SE DC.

As a priest, there is nothing you can do in the face of that sort of pain. There is no plan that can fix the past. You can't repair a broken human soul. There are no action items, there is nothing that you can say, and nothing that can be done. And so, you sit. And pray. And listen. And hope, that in the listening, that you are some sort of representative for the part of humanity that promises not to neglect, abuse, betray or berate, and that you are some sort of representative of a flicker of divine love somewhere, although in this moment, it seems very, very far away.

The only thing that gives me comfort in this situation is something that I heard a few weeks ago at a conference, something that I've been thinking about over and over again, is this claim by pastor Frank Thomas: it's almost impossible to tell the difference between loving and listening. What you do when you listen is so close to that act of loving that the person being listened to can't tell the difference.

I hope that's true, because it's all I've got.

1 comment:

  1. One of the memorable take-aways from this year in Exploring Your Ministry came from a discussion of a horrific situation that one of our members sees in his life as a forensics investigator on a regular basis. He is always faced with loved ones in connection with the deaths that he investigates. There was much talk of "bringing Jesus" to these situations. Someone in the group innocently mentioned that Jesus was already there. All we can do is sit and listen and pray. Relieves a lot of the burden on us -- doesn't it? -- to realize that the divine presence is there before, during and after our interactions with hurting folks. Even though as you say - it may seem "very, very far away." Thanks for the great blog!