Winston Smith delivered an extraordinary plenary about how we enter into the pain of others. He began by telling the story from Good Will Hunting, an exchange between the Matt Damon character and his therapist, Robin Williams. The exchange illustrated the difference between having loads of knowledge about love or hurt and a true experience of love (or hurt). Knowledge knows nothing in comparison to experience. Winston then talked about an early counselor experience he had where he listened to a person’s pain but only critiqued it rather than entering in. He acknowledged the danger of biblical counselors to whip out a 3 trees chart and assessing them, thereby invalidating their experiences of pain.
Instead, he suggest a better path
- Enter in. Really listen to them. Don’t imagine how you would feel in that situation as that will cause you to think and respond to yourself, not to the concerns and needs of the one who you want to help.
- Connect to their experience. Don’t go first to fixing or giving perspective. That can be helpful in the right time. When you are trying to connect, that is NOT the right time.
- Care. Let their grief become yours. Caring does not mean agreeing. And when you see strong responses or biases, we start to think that care means to correct. There is something true enough that you can start with their experience.
(By the way, I find most first year counseling students really believe they are ready and willing to do these. But here’s where the challenge lies. You sit with someone and they begin telling you their pain. You convey a few connecting and caring responses and then after 5 minutes, you have nothing else to say. You are already wanting to comfort, give perspective, gently correct. We really do struggle with sitting with another’s pain. It makes us uncomfortable)
There is a cost to entering in. It will cost you your comfort.
These 3 steps are quite hard even as they are simple. They are skills to be learned, but Winston reminds us that it is mostly hard because of something within. Why hard? You have to connect to something inside yourself that enables you to connect with them. You need to connect to fear, to grief, to despair, to rage. It will cost you something to do this well. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable.
So why would we do this? Sincere love calls us to enter in. It isn’t just a motive; love is a person. We can do this because we know and are connected to Jesus. His nature is love, willing to leave his comfort zone and enter into the world of another. He becomes one of us. Want to give the same love to others? Experience God’s entering into your world.
He ended with 1 John 4:12: No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. So enter in with boldness.