Several times in the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to speak with people who are in tense relational situations: some that have been thrust upon them, some of their own making, and some a little of both. In one, the person admitted he had created the tension by speaking out of his fatigue. The reply that fell out of my mouth surprised me a little. “We need to always ask ourselves this question: Am I speaking with my head, my hurt, or my heart?” It was not until sometime later that I truly reflected on what I had said and realized how it applies in many of our life and ministry situations.
If we reply in conversation with our heads, it means we are thinking toward our next reply, as in a verbal chess match, resulting in a reply that will make us look good and sound smart. This may not be what the other person needs to hear at the moment, but we come away feeling good about ourselves. However, the other person may go away emotionally limping. We may in fact be “right” in what we say, but the motivation and timing is all wrong (read that “selfish”). Not a good way to shepherd or to be shepherded.
If we reply from our hurt, it sometimes is a question of who is hurting the most at the moment. We compare their pain to our pain, either past or present. If we perceive that our pain is greater, we will then reply by telling by them to suck it up and tough it out because we did and we made it through. This is pride applied. So much for compassion and suffering in silence. Our hurt might also be a result of our current physical or emotional condition. Our response then might rise from an internal dialogue that says, “Can’t you see how much pain I am in right now, and you want me to help you?” We react reflexively to the pain as when a doctor taps our knee and our leg kicks out. We almost can’t help it, but we really can if we see it.
Yes, there is a place for those who have been comforted to comfort (see 2 Corinthians 1:3-5), but we need to ask if we are really comforting or just dismissing the struggle of another for the sake of our own needs. We are not talking comparative suffering here; we are talking selfless compassion flowing from understanding that is arising from a point of pain. I have felt your pain, but I will not add to it. This is what Steven Covey calls our “response-ability”, the ability as rational adults to choose how we will respond to those we encounter. This is where the heart comes in
To reply from the heart, we must be truly willing to put the other person first, placing their needs above our own. This involves listening carefully, trying to hear the heart cry of the other. It involves active listening, hearing and then reflecting back what you heard for greater understanding. It involves speaking in questions and not statements, forcing us to slow down and think through what we are about to say. With a little care and a lot of compassion, we may be able hear clues to the real cause of the problem. Then we can gently move the other person to a place of self-discovery, a place where they come to the answer on their own with just a little guidance from us. And, as they come to it on their own, they tend to take greater ownership of it.
Why do I mention this? Because awareness is half the battle. We are called to be shepherds, and shepherds are charged with the guarding and care of the flock, be it a family or a church or both. Yes, there may be times we are called on to dispense “discipline”, but we are also charged to dispense grace and truth. And if we do grace and truth well, discipline may not be needed.
And how do we do this? By learning to speak from the heart. I mention this because it is something that needs to be spoken into my own life from time to time by way of a gentle reminder spoken from the heart. If this is something we can help with, please call.
With You on This Journey,
Kelley Johnson, NCD Pastoral Care