Thursday, December 14, 2006

Pastoral Listening

Stanley Hauerwas on Job's friends:

For in spite of the bad press of Job's companions usually receive (and in many ways it is deserved!), they at least sat on the ground with him for seven days. Morever they did not speak to him, "for they saw that his suffering was very great." That they did so is truly an amazing act of magnanimity, for most of us are willing to be with sufferers, especially those in such great pain that we can hardly recognize them, only if we can "do something" to relieve their suffering or at least distract their attention. Not so with Job's comforters. They sat on the ground with Job doing nothing more than being willing to be present in the face of his suffering.1

This reminds me of the single most useful thing that I have done in seminary: read The Lost Art of Listening by Michael Nichols. The author advances that people rarely listen to each other and painstakingly details exactly how we fail to listen to other people. I found it to be a big eye-opener. Nichols key message is "Shut up!" Don't interrupt the speaker. Wait.

Dr. Burrell Dinkins, who taught the class in which I read this book, gave a simple technique to help pastors discipline themselves when they want to interrupt a counselee. "Whenever you want to interrupt, take your thumbnail and jam it into the palm of your hand until it bleeds, or you decide that you don't want to talk afterall, whichever comes first."

1Stanley Hauerwas, "Salvation and Health: Why Medicine Needs the Church." From Christ to the World: Introductory Readings in Christian Ethics. Wayne G. Boulton et al, eds. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994) 386.


Anonymous said...

Good advice.

Lorna said...

Great post. Is the book worth reading do you think?

John said...

Yes, without a doubt.