Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ask; Don't Instruct

As Jody says in the last set of comments, some moments jump out at us as examples of "the wisdom of silence and the comfort of just being there."

Oh, I hope I remember that.

When someone whom I know to be a person of faith (any faith) is in turmoil, I try to ask, "Does your faith help you?"  Or, "What has been your experience of God in this?"  Sometimes people are surprised ~ they expect me, the pastor, to TELL them how their faith helps them, or how they should be experiencing God.  And then, sometimes, they venture a quiet response along the lines of "Not always," or "Not so much."  And then they look even more surprised: Is it ok to acknowledge that?  Is lightning about to strike?

Of course, sometimes the opposite happens.  Sometimes a person preaches an entire sermon in response to one of those questions.  And that's ok, too.  It might not be my sermon, but it's that person's moment, not mine.

If I know, or guess, the person to be someone for whom what I would describe as religion is meaningless, I try to ask, "What helps you deal with this?" or "How are you approaching this in your mind or heart or spirit?"  

People have such powerful stories to tell!

But I guess you have to want to hear theirs more than you want to impose yours.

I can't say that I get an A+ in this endeavor.  Some days, I suppose, a D-.

But you really do have to know that sharing yours is a meaningless gesture, and sometimes one that inflicts damage, until you've heard theirs.


  1. A couple of weeks ago I heard an especially pastoral professor say, "It really doesn't help people to take their stories away from them. They'll let you know when they're ready for a new one, but in the meantime, they need the one they have."