“I don’t recall asking.”

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.

About Mother Beth Tjoflat

Episcopal priest, urban contemplative, playwright, lover of hounds, American of Chilean-Norwegian-Moravian descent. Interests include transformational ministry with the forgotten and marginalized; church planting and congregational development; 12-step spirituality; Hispanic ministry; radical hospitality, and spending time with dear friends.
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9 Responses to “I don’t recall asking.”

  1. Kaia says:

    Oh so timely! I am the listener, but also too often the “unsolicited advisor”, even though I KNOW that is selfish. THANK you for this prescient reminder!!!!

    It helps!!!!

    Hugs beth!!

  2. Ann Brackin says:

    Beautifully stated.

  3. docyelof says:

    Beth. Love this. Keep trudging this road of happy destiny. You’re a bright light for many. Peace, Kathleen

    > >

  4. Elise Higbe says:

    we rarely see each other and when we do – we really don’t speak – we don’t know each other very well – but I am watching and am VERY VERY pleased to say I know who you are. Keep being you – keep loving the broken world around you – and…raising boys is tough work – I have been at it for almost 32 years – they never really grow all the way up! Love and Peace to you!

    Elise Higbe

  5. Cate Lynch says:

    Well said my friend!! Beautiful picture!

  6. Diane Till says:

    Thank you. Message understood and deeply appreciated.

  7. Linda Baker says:

    Hey Beth, I am listening, and my only response is I love you and I am in awe of all you do. God bless you sister!

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