Listen With Your Heart
By JIM NICHOLS
I suspect that I am not the only one frustrated, angered, confused, and altogether discombobulated by the world today. Frankly, it is difficult not to get discouraged and, I am afraid, let that discouragement lapse over into our spiritual lives. As I fight that concern, I realize that one of my problems is that I am thinking about it all on too large a scale. Because of that, it all seems to be unsolvable. It is true that I, by myself or even with a small group, cannot address this societal mess. However, I need to remember that my clearest responsibility is to love the person who is in front of me right now. I might have concern for someone in my past or future, but the only actions I can take are with this one here with me now.
Even at that, the concerns of even one person can appear overwhelming. It is a reasonable goal, however, with God’s help that we can listen with our hearts and wait hopefully for God to use us somehow.
My friend Beth Reeves has a great pastoral heart. She once compiled a selection of words spoken to her over the years. With her permission, I present some of them here. As you will feel in your heart, they do not require much explanation. Try to put your COVID concerns aside and listen to these voices.
Will I have enough money in retirement?
Will I be able to eat tonight?
My marriage . . . what marriage . . . it’s more like we’re roommates.
My child is in trouble with the law.
My child didn’t get into the college she wanted.
I’m afraid of being a burden to my kids.
I can’t drive anymore.
I don’t want to move to an assisted living facility.
I can’t concentrate at work.
I am lost without him. He took care of everything.
He didn’t leave a will.
Something isn’t right. She can’t seem to get well.
I hurt my back, but I’ve used up all my sick days.
You came to see ME?
My elderly parent needs to live with us.
He can’t swallow anymore.
Earlier in life she was brilliant, and now she doesn’t know my name.
I miss my little boy so much.
It’s not fair. Why did she have to go first?
I can’t get rid of this cough.
He needs to repeat this class again.
The air conditioning broke.
I’m raising my grandkids.
He didn’t get that job promotion.
We just had a sudden death.
The company is laying off that department.
I didn’t realize how depressed he really was.
I can’t seem to do anything right.
Things are much worse than they appear.
Simply to identify statements such as these, of course, does not indicate what role we as a listener might have. I cherish the scriptural stories in which a person is consoled by God and told that the concern for “what to say or do” was not a problem since God would give the words or non-words. If we listen with our hearts, God will use us. We cannot earn God’s love because it already exists and is constantly given to us. Our charge is to express God’s love to others.
I admit that many times when I am trying to console ill or dying people my words to them are really words to myself. I like to read to them and to myself: “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Richard Rohr has suggested that we re-write that passage to include our greatest fears.
Illness (even COVID-19) will not separate me from the love of God.
Broken relationships will not separate me from the love of God.
Bad governments will not separate me from the love of God.
Unemployment will not separate me from the love of God.
Bereavement will not separate me from the love of God.
Many of us had mothers who cautioned us repeatedly with words such as “Remember who you are.” We need to keep reminding each other that we are children of God and live under His grace. Let us be people who share that grace with others, usually one person at a time—the person who is in front of us right now.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain