We all have those moments in life that cause us to reflect on what is really important. For most, those moments come in the form of adversity, trial, sickness, or being confronted with death. The fragility of life and its brevity, when realized, provide for us those life altering course corrections which steer us toward the right path.
However, whether we seize these opportunistic instances in time depend solely upon our desire for self-reflection, concern for our spiritual well-being and our attention to God. The recent passing of my grandfather, James Raymond Whittaker, provided for me one of these such moments.
Grandpa Whittaker gave his family, friends, acquaintances and many passersby a precious gift often neglected and undervalued by our current culture. He was a man of a few words, a listener. In fact, he spoke so few words that is was rare to hear him speak.
The precision in which he took at choosing which words to speak and at which time to speak them created a considerable weight and value to be attributed to what he had to say. He was a man who epitomized James 1:19-20 which reads, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” He was a hearer, responded with purpose and did not jump to conclusions. What I often did not understand about Grandpa was his lack of advice at times. To my shame, I misunderstood his lack of intervention and advice as a lack of knowledge to solve complex problems.
As I entered ministry and was thrust into a position to hear the problems of others, I soon realized the fallacy of my perceptions. This cultural hurdle I faced and my ill-conceived notion that advice must accompany listening was not working as I had hoped. Confronted by my failure to be effective, the truth of Parker Palmer’s words began to resonate.
“Our habit of advising each other reveals its shadow side. If the shadow could speak its logic, I think it would say something like this: If you take my advice, you will surely solve your problem. If you take my advice, but fail to solve your problem, you did not try hard enough. If you fail to take my advice, I did the best I could. I am covered, no matter how things come out. I no longer need to worry about you or your vexing problem.
The shadow behind the ‘fixes’ is a strategy for abandoning each other while appearing to be concerned.” (A Hidden Wholeness, p.117.)
Grandpa, while a machinist by trade, heard people and did not distance himself with a quick solution. He was not easily angered.
We can all benefit from his example as we interact with those around us. Decide to break from the culture, be a hearer and reduce the amount of wrath that is in this world.