Israel means: “Struggle with God”
A young rabbi friend of mine once praised me, suggesting that my ongoing contemplations about God, given that I’m an adult in my forties, are a testament to my relationship with God. My back-and-forth struggle with the concept (even though I lean more towards doubt than belief), as he framed it, is better than the apathy of many (most?) adults who don’t much think about the issue at all.
Of course, to an extent, these are heartening words, just as my friend intended them to be. The idea is nice, right? My relationship with God is more real and relevant to me than it may be for so many others. I’m so especially spiritually sensitive and attune, you see.
However, that conversation of ours and that statement of his in particular continue running through my mind, and I find that they grate on me. The more I reflect upon this idea, the more uncomfortable I become with the sentiment.
Providing spiritual care
One of my dearest friends studied chaplaincy under Rev. Landon Bogan, Director of the Center for Pastoral Education at Stanford Health Care; and she occasionally shares professional insights and experiences with me from her work in the field. Quite recently, this friend related a piece of wisdom to me from Rev. Bogan, which provided me with some clarity on my conversation with the young rabbi:
Don’t try to judge, don’t try to compare, and don’t try to fix when providing spiritual care.-Rev. Landon Bogan
The rabbi’s bias
Fundamentally, my rabbi friend was not really hearing me.
For him, God’s existence is self-evident (I must note that this was not always the case… he deliberately worked to convince himself of this before committing himself to the rabbinate), and he asserts that it is more correct to believe in God and God’s presence in our lives than not to believe these things. Therefore, while he can relate to people who doubt God’s existence, sentience, concern, or involvement (as he did himself), he believes that any such doubts are misguided.
Now, my rabbi friend’s beliefs are not a problem in and of themselves. Not only do I think that it’s not unreasonable for intelligent people to believe in God; but I also don’t begrudge him the belief that nonbelievers are wrong. In fact, that makes total sense to me.
The issue is that my rabbi friend was judging, comparing, and attempting to “fix” me, rather than simply hear me. In fact, this reminds me of a piece of simple wisdom that I posted to this blog just recently:
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.–Henri Nouwen (1932 – 1996)
It may not come easily or naturally (certainly not for me!), but based upon my personal life experiences, I have come to conclude that providing others with needed emotional support demands of us that we learn how to compartmentalize. We must put ourselves and our most deeply held beliefs aside and attempt to understand the world through others’ eyes if we want to help them… And this is doubly true for spiritual care professionals.
- Contrary to Rev. Bogan’s teaching, my rabbi friend was judging me: ‘David holds false beliefs’ and ‘David seems open-minded enough to be convinced of faith statements that don’t seem unreasonable to him’;
- He was also comparing my faith journey and beliefs with his own, rather than listening to me as an individual: ‘I’ve been where David is now theologically, and I’ve grown to hold different views’;
- And he left me feeling like he wanted to fix me by subtly guiding me towards a “correct” belief in God.
Simply put, the goal should never be to change someone, as much as we’d all feel more comfortable in a world full of others who share our beliefs.
Don’t draw comparisons – just listen.
P.S. Shabbat Shalom!
I’m offline for the Jewish Sabbath for ~25 hours from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. I look forward to reconnecting with you soon!