Please, pastor, listen to me!

A passionate plea from a neglected church member.

Jose A. Fuentes, Ph.D., is the director of the research center at Antillian Adventist University, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

Dear Pastor:

This brief letter is to share with you my reaction to your visit yesterday. First, I want to thank you for responding to my invitation to come and listen. Now I would like for you to know how I felt.

When I wanted you to listen to me, I hoped for just that. So when you started giving me advice, I felt like saying, "That is not what I asked for." When I asked you to listen to me and you began to tell me why I shouldn't feel that way, you led me to keep my feelings inside. You were providing consolation before you heard all my problems. It is like putting the bandage on a wound before you have drained the pus out of it.

I wish you had just listened to me attentively. Why did you feel you had to say something or do something to solve my problems? By doing so, you denied me the opportunity to do something on my own before there was a need to reach out for outside help. All I asked was that you listen—not talk or do or console—just hear me as I pour my heart out to someone whom I trust.

Advice was not what I wanted in that particular instance. Advice is cheap; 25 cents will get me both Dear Abby and Billy Graham in the same newspaper. And I know I can do for myself. I'm not helpless. Maybe discouraged and falter ing, but not helpless. When you do some thing for me, that reinforces my depen dence. But when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, and listen attentively as I open my heart rather than organize my feelings, I will be able to understand what is behind these irrational feelings. Once I have emptied my heart, if I have not been able to snap out and organize my feelings, then I might come to your wisdom. Irrational feelings make sense when we understand what's behind them.

What I needed yesterday was the ministry of your presence. I needed your support while I was getting in touch with my (irrational) feelings. When we as individuals work them out by ourselves, we grow taller before the Lord. It is like speaking to someone whom we trust and who listens attentively and cares. Per haps that's why prayer works for people—because God listens quietly and He doesn't give advice or try to fix things halfway through the prayer. He first allows us to do all that we can. He just listens and lets us work it out for ourselves; then He comes in and does for us what we can't do.

So please, next time, when I ask you to listen, do just that, hear me. And if you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn, and I'll listen to you—attentively.

Sincerely, yours in Christ,

A church member

PS: This letter was written on behalf of the thousands who never get to finish emptying their hearts before they re ceive interpreting, advice, consolation, and a prayer.

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Jose A. Fuentes, Ph.D., is the director of the research center at Antillian Adventist University, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

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