“A person finds joy in giving an apt reply – and how good is a timely word! If one gives answer before hearing, it is folly and shame.” (Proverbs 15:23)
Of all my training in spiritual direction, I remember most what I learned the first year: listen up (to God), listen out (to whomever is speaking), and listen in (to what’s going on in your own heart). Another good principle was to avoid trying to fix things for others in these pastoral conversations. When things don’t go well in pastoral conversations, I usually don’t do one or more of these things well.
When I meet with families to plan a funeral, I want to honor the family and their loved one, but by “listening in,” I want to rush to get the logistics of the service. This is my version of “fixing things” with a family that is in grief. However, by “listening out” not only to words but to body language, family members are usually in turmoil, and often the conversation becomes awkward because funeral planning is not an everyday thing for them. By “listening up”, I am often prompted to reply to this uncertainty with “tell me about your loved one.” Then I hear hilarious, heartwarming and heartbreaking stories of this person’s life, and these stories inform both the Scripture readings and the message. This hopefully brings joy to the family, even in their grief.
We usually think that an “apt reply” is good advice, and sometimes it is. However, sometimes it can be silence, a touch, giving them a tissue, reflecting back to them what they just said or even a simple question.
Submitted by Libby Rutherford