People come to me. They come to me to confess. They come to me to admit a weakness. They come to me in their confusion and fear. They come to me, unbidden, but not unwelcome.
People tell me the most amazing and awful things. They tell me stories that are so honest and so sad they rip my heart in two. They are strangers. They are waitresses in a restaurant. They are patrons at the library. They are members of the Y. Wherever I am sitting or standing still in one place for longer than 30 minutes, they come.
It is a blessing. It is a calling.
I don’t have to fix anything, I’ve come to realize. I don’t have to make it right. I don’t have to have the perfect word to say. I just have to be there. I have to listen with my whole being. I empty myself out and try my best to let the connection with God be clear and true.
That is it. They aren’t there for me. They are there for God, but God hides in us. God hides in each of us, and when we share from our hearts to another person we are sharing with God.
This is what I went to the minister at my old church for, what, four years ago now? I went to learn how to do this well. I want to be gentle and kind and open with each person who comes to me. But I also don’t want to be stepped on. Empathic people are sometimes confused with doormats. I want to learn how to be an ear for God. Turns out she didn’t really know how to tell me how to do this. She (fortunately) sent me to a pastoral care class and I learned something of this, but they didn’t tell much of the “how to” or the “don’t do this”. It was kind of on-the-job-training.
The trick is just to do it. Just show up. Just be available. And know that I’m going to do it wrong but that is OK too. And when I feel that feeling in my gut that says it is time to back away because it is getting to be too much, listen to it. Don’t fix anything. Just listen. Let people vent. Let them work it out. Be a mirror, or a sounding board. Don’t be a teacher or a coach.
Just listening is healing. Just being there is healing.
There is no magic, no pill, no advice. There is a lot of patience and time and compassion and love. And that is enough.