Category: pastoral care

pastoral care

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‘Fight Club’ & The Art of Faithful Listening

As a preacher, I often lean on illustrations from movies to in order to further demonstrate truths of our faith.

Many might disagree with that approach.

Still more might disagree with how often I refer to the movie 'Fight Club' as an illustration of faithful community.

Let me explain.

For the most part, the movie is not a life-affirming or redeeming one. However, there is one scene between Marla Singer (played by Helena Bonham Carter) and one of the main characters (played by Edward Norton), where they share an encounter at a cancer support group.

I'm not sure if one must yell “Spoiler Alert!” before mentioning details from a movie that is 15 years old, but…Spoiler Alert!

Neither of these characters has cancer. However, they have inserted themselves into a series of support groups because – as you gather through the course of the movie – they lack basic and healthy connections to other human beings. This is certainly a problem for our culture – especially Christian culture – but I digress.

In an exchange which causes them to finish each other's sentence, Norton begins by saying, “When people think you're dying, they really, really listen to you, instead of just…”

To which Bonham Carter replies, “…instead of just waiting for their turn to speak.”

This raises an interesting – and possibly life-changing – question: Do you find yourself really listening to others, or just waiting for your turn to speak?

I would argue that the faithful life and existing in faithful community is more about listening, than it is about being able to say the right and faithful thing.

I'm preparing to be commissioned as a probationary elder in the United Methodist Church this May. As a part of that, I am taking a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. Essentially, you serve as a chaplain in a group learning environment. I'm happen to be serving as a chaplain at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Chaplains are called upon to minister into many different situations. You could be paged to a belligerent patient's room, you could be asked to pray for someone before they go into surgery, or you could be called to the bedside of someone who is being terminally weaned from life support.

In each of these situations, the faithful have obtained a list of platitudinous sayings or supposedly helpful scriptures that are meant to act as “silver bullets” to correct behavior or soothe the hurting soul. However, that shouldn't excuse the fact that, short of our platitudes, we have a way of finding a place to insert our thoughts and feelings – rather than allowing the other person to find a caring soul within us. My role as a chaplain is not necessarily to find the right words to say to someone, but to hear the other person as a creature of sacred worth. Only after I have listened, should I consider attempting to offer some type of spiritual intervention into their lives.

Should I tell the belligerent patient to ” be slow to anger?”

Should I tell the patient going into surgery that “God doesn't give us more than we can handle?”

Should I tell the family of the terminal patient that “God needed another angel?”

Think about the last time you spoke to someone who was pouring their heart out to you. Were you just waiting for your chance to tell them exactly what you think you should do, or waiting to share with them a particular scripture that speaks to them in times of trouble?

I hope not.

Am I saying that scripture is wholly unhelpful in our times of trouble? No.

Am I saying that each of our carefully or hastily shared platitudes is worthless? Possibly – but that's not a hill I'm willing to die on.

I am saying that maybe we should be more attuned to the inherent worth in others. If we understand the other person as a creature of sacred worth, maybe we should be willing to listen, empathize and validate, rather than just listening for opportunities to insert ourselves into their trials.

There is a difference between listening and “listening for your turn to speak.” As those seeking to live in faithful community with each other, the faithful thing to do would be to learn to tell the difference.

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