My friend Spencer taught me something invaluable. Whenever someone would ask for his listening ear, he would stop them at the beginning and say: “Did you want feedback, or did you just want me to listen?”
I have stolen this from my friend and find that 80-90 percent of the time, folks just want me to listen, without judgement or advice-giving. This shouldn’t surprise me.
In my experience as a chaplain and spiritual director, this is the gift folks crave so deeply, especially in our culture of constant feedback. I appreciate so much the chance to let you know what I need.
Unfortunately, too often lately I have encountered people who feel the need to tell me what they think I should do or, even more jarring, who they think I am. As a priest of 2 congregations and a single-parent of a very complex, mostly delightful but not infrequently challenging 7-year-old boy, I make this simple request: Please stop. What you perhaps mean to be helpful actually hurts.
Stop with assuming that you have a clue about what my motives are, what I may be thinking, or what my son may need. Especially if you have never had so much as a cup of coffee with me. Or with my child. Same goes if you have never attended a worship service with us. Or walked alongside me in my work, when I am tending a victim of domestic abuse or one struggling with addiction. Or when I’ve had the holy privilege to hear a murder confession. Please stop insisting I be in my office, behind my desk, always at the ready for you to pop in and give me your 2 cents worth. It’s not that I don’t appreciate a visit. But there may be more pressing work to be done.
On the other hand, if you feel called to reach out, if you are looking for a patient, nonjudgmental presence, I may be your gal.
I’m sorry if my “tone” seems too caustic or harsh for your liking. Thank you for indulging my venting – I’ve been carrying this for a while. Pray for me and forgive me if that is what is indicated for your spiritual health and the well being of our relationship. We are all human beings in need of love and grace. No exceptions here.