Saturday, February 6, 2010


"Let us then pursue the things that make for peace and build up the common life." ~ Romans 14:19

Early in my ministry a young man phoned and asked if he could come in and talk to me. We made an appointment for later that day, and he spent about an hour in my office telling me about some things that were on his mind: mistakes he had made and some decisions he had before him. Later that evening he called to thank me and said, “I think ya done me some good!”

I remember this exchange (and those exact words) because it was the first of what has become a repeated experience over the years: I “helped” somebody primarily by sitting and listening. I don’t mean to be disingenuous; I probably contributed some humble skill in the “art of pastoral conversation” (as the title of one of my seminary texts had it), but, mostly, I listened.

And I’ve been on the other side of the desk, so to speak. Once or twice in the office of another professional listener, but more likely over a cup of coffee or glass of wine with a friend. And the load is lifted. (I have come to see this kind of therapy as almost mathematical: You have this weight you’re carrying around, you divide it in half and ask your friend to carry it with you.)

I suppose, dear reader, that this reflection strikes you as stating the obvious (and, indeed, I hope you have experienced this kind of restorative conversation), but it is such a basic item in the kit-bag of human interaction that I include it here as a part of this series: If the burden is heavy, find someone to talk to – either a professional whom you trust or, in the words of the old saying, “that’s what friends are for.”

I am blessed to live in a marriage in which Caryl and I talk to each other about anything and everything. Still, sometimes it seems as though one’s friend might add a needed perspective. And I remember the time when, after a rare “bad day,” Caryl was sharing her troubles with me. As I launched into a knowing reply, she interrupted me and said, “I don’t want you to fix it. I just want you to listen.” Physician, heal thyself.

And here’s another reason to seek out a friend:

I knocked today at my friend's door;
he answered, and I entered;
"I've the best possible reason for coming," I said.
"What's that?" he inquired.
"I've missed you."
I had no other reason.
I just wanted to stand up close,
shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart
with this, my friend.
We found it reason enough.

                        ~ Gerhard Frost

Next post: "The Anxiety Thermostat"

(Footnote: Clinical depression, of course, is another matter. Both as counselor and as friend I will sometimes suggest, “I think you should talk to your doctor.”)

No comments: