Listening well: A chaplains vocation

When I first stepped into the world of chaplaincy as a student in clinical pastoral education, I was miffed by all the talk of “listening presence.” Was I merely a listener? Was I to do nothing different from what I did as a 15-year-old candy striper—listen to patients’ stories?

After two decades working as a counselor and a hospital chaplain, I now understand the tremendous skill required to listen actively and reflectively. I understand that listening well creates a space in which a truth can be spoken. I now am comfortable spending my days saying relatively little, because words often serve to crowd out the space for deep reflection.

A skilled listener can help people tap into their own wisdom. The wife of a dying man, facing end-of-life decisions—“Are you ready to make him a DNR?”—may need something besides advice; she needs help in finding what is in her heart.