Sitting with the Hopeless: Learning to Listen Generously
A few weeks prior to my graduation from seminary I was sitting in the living room of the house I rented, working diligently on a last project that separated me from my M.Div., when I became aware of a loud rustling noise outside. Simultaneously annoyed and intrigued, I went outside to investigate.
After a few minutes of listening, I realized the noise was coming from a support column that held the awning above our front porch. It gradually became clear what had happened; a mouse had somehow fallen from the roof into the column. The aluminum column provided no traction for its claws, so it could not get out. Thankfully, I had an idea!
I hurried inside and began tearing up an old t-shirt, tying the strips together to create a mouse rescue ladder. My heart sang as I tied the fabric. I sensed God was using me to bless his creation. I was going to be the hero for this little mouse and God would be quite pleased with me for my faithfulness to his creature. I lowered the rope into the hole, secured it with tape, and went away pleased with my good deed.
24 hours later I could still hear the scratching.
Why hadn’t that little mouse climbed out? Maybe the rope wasn’t long enough. I pulled it back out of the column to measure and my eye caught a few grey tufts stuck to the end of the cloth. Feathers.
My stomach turned as I realized what was happening. It wasn’t a mouse. It was a bird. Birds can’t climb mouse rescue ladders.
A mama bird had built her nest in the awning above our porch. Just when those little birds reached the moment of maturity, when they were supposed to literally spread their wings and fly into freedom and life, they had plummeted into a cage of darkness and death. And there was nothing I could do about it.
And so day after day I listened to those little birds fight for life on my front porch. I begged God to work a miracle.
Instead, the response that rose in my spirit was, “Sit with them.”
Are you kidding me? I was game to help when I thought there was something I could do to help, but now I knew this struggle would end in death. What redemption could come from putting myself through that?
The symbolism was not lost on me. I knew I was being asked to journey to the cross; to share in the suffering even though I knew it would end in death. He was asking me to be Mary, but I was being Peter.
I recently came to realize that what happened with the birds was a clear illustration of the role of a spiritual director. Will you sit with the helpless ones and hear their cries even if you are powerless to break through the walls that bind them? Will you sit and ache with them so they don’t suffer alone? Will you honor the cries that no one else hears and give validity to their pain? Will you face death with a tenacious hope that resurrection is always possible? Will you trust me?
That is the challenge and the call for those of us who would seek to listen generously.