March 13, 2013
By Rev. Mindi
Two prayers I learned during my summer as a Clinical Pastoral Education intern were:
“Lord, help me not to run,”
“Lord, shut my mouth.”
I carry these two prayers with me into my ministry.
There are plenty of days when I want to run. When the umpteenth person calls or rings the doorbell to tell me they are down on their luck, need gas money or food money, and how they can’t get help from social services for one reason or another or they are just short until the end of the month and will pay me back. When a church member tells me of all the problems they are facing: relationship struggles, financial struggles, mental health struggles, and it all just seems too much for them to bear and now I have been drawn in. When someone calls and is mad about the church lights being left on one night, or a building user is upset because the piano was moved, or something is broken or missing and immediately another group is blamed for it. I want to run.
I want to run instead of going into the hospital room to face the family that is not ready to see their loved one go and just believes if we say the right prayer God will answer. I want to run when the alcoholic parent tries one more time to make amends and set their life straight and wants me to try to talk to their estranged family. I want to run when I’m told once again we’re behind in the budget and we’re going to have to cut something. I want to run.
But I pray that prayer, breathe, and go on. Sometimes I go rather slowly, but I go on, by the help of God, I go on.
And then I pray that second prayer.
I shut my mouth when I am tempted to give the easy answer. When someone tells me their personal struggles with faith and with the church I listen. When the waitress at the diner tells me about her faith journey I listen. When the elderly woman goes on and on about her dogs as if they were her children I listen. I listen because it’s the most important thing I can do.
I listen when the pastor in the next town calls me up to try to get me on board with a movement I don’t agree with. I listen when a man tells me how I can’t be a pastor because I’m a woman. I listen when the person laughs that I am a minister and tells me what’s wrong with organized religion.
I listen because it’s not only what I’m called to do, but I pray for the strength to do it.
In my time as a pastor, I have found that one of the most precious gifts we can give to those in need is of our time and of our ears to listen. I have also learned for those who have axes to grind that listening is one of the most disarming things we can do. I’m not advocating for listening and taking in hate speech, but for someone who is looking for an argument, a person who simply listens can dissipate the intensity. Sometimes even listening can change someone’s mind.
When I was a CPE intern that summer, I was called to a room on a floor that never called in the chaplains, even laughed when we checked at the front desk. But this morning I was called in because a patient had requested spiritual support. But it turned out she had not. What had happened was that she was a talker and the nurses were tired. And it also turned out she was an atheist and the last person she wanted to see was a chaplain (the nurses had failed to mention to her that they had requested the chaplain nor bothered to ask her if she wanted the visit). But she did turn out to be a talker, and so I prayed for the strength to listen. I maybe got in 5 sentences in 2 hours of conversation. But by the time they were taking her away for tests, she asked me to pray with her, and so I did. When I returned the next day she had been discharged, but I believe that was one of the most powerful days as a chaplain. I simply listened.
And I carry those prayers with me on days like today, where I listened to the diner patrons complain about daylight savings time and the government. I prayed not to run when someone called me about a difficult conversation they needed to have with me. I prayed to listen instead, and I believe it went well.