Fixers and Elixirs
Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me. – Psalm 31:2 (NRSV)
It can feel nearly impossible to talk with someone you love when they are in pain and resist offering solutions. When our best friend or sibling is suffering from a bad breakup, an intractable work relationship, a futile financial situation, we automatically go into solving mode. We become fixers, and offer elixirs, certain we know just the therapist, strategy, book, or pharmaceutical to make it all come right, or at least numb it for a while.
But almost no advice is good enough (particularly to a person too upset to hear it) to replace the simple efficacy of deeply listening. Anne Lamott wrote, “If someone listens, deeply, you can lay [your pain] at the feet of the right god.”
Deep listening has benefits for the listener, too. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The one who can no longer listen to his brother will soon no longer be listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God as well.”
Needing to fix other people’s problems is about making ourselves more comfortable. It is about ego and not soul. The soul was born knowing how to listen.
The psalmist asks God to listen—just listen. What if the listening itself is the rescue, the rock, the refuge, the fortress? Knowing that God really hears and doesn’t need to blame, shame, fix or forget is all the balm the patient needs.
Next time you are in pain and your friend starts to fix or offer patent medicine, it’s OK to gently stop them and say: “Please, can you just listen and not offer solutions? That’s all I really need.”
And the next time you are listening to someone in pain, check yourself: are you trying to fix or elix? Trust that quietly listening with your whole self really is enough.
God, thanks for listening and not talking back. Amen.
Molly Baskette pastors at First Church Berkeley (CA) UCC. She is the author of several books about church renewal, parenting & faith, and spirituality. You can connect with her by subscribing to her newsletter, Doomsday Dance Party.