The Why Behind the Why

I’m going to start this post with a tweet from Rachael Denhollander (who is amazing and heroic – and having just ordered her book I can’t wait to read it, though I am certain that once Pam sees this post I will have to fight her to read it first, and on a side note her husband Jacob Denhollander is pretty amazing too – I respect any person who is obviously a big fan of their spouse – how’s this for a Pauline run on sentence. 🙂 ). Here’s the tweet:

Since I am often challenged and encouraged by what Rachael writes and recommends, and Brad Hambrick’s post is about the book “The Body Keeps the Score” (third reference I have heard/read to this book in 3 weeks – hold on a second, let me order that one too – Pamela we now have books to swap while each other read the other one – but I will insist that the dust covers be removed while we are reading them – this is a debate in the Terrell household) I went over to read Brad’s post. Very insightful and helpful review of the book. I guess I’ll have to follow him now too, only problem seems to be that he is a professor at SEBTS. Sorry this is my NOBTS and SWBTS pride coming out here (from back in the day when SWBTS was good, caring, and open to conversation i.e. the Russel Dilday era, not the era of the jerk and abuse enabler that was recently shaping the direction of SWBTS – I may be a little bitter here). Anyhow aside from teaching at the wrong institution his post is wonderful. You should go read it HERE. I’ll just share this one paragraph.

When we listen well, acknowledging the limits of our understanding, and patiently allow the person to convey their experience we counter the fear that we cannot be trusted or can’t understand (to borrow Dr. Van Der Kolk’s phrases). In her book We Too: How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis, Mary DeMuth talks about her experience of disclosing abuse, “I healed because people in the church dared to listen to my story and pray for me (p. 133).” If you read Mary’s book, you will find the beneficial listening was not quick listening that prematurely assumed understanding and applied the Bible to a base-level emotions, but empathetic listening that was as patient as the book of Job is long.

I bring up Rachael’s tweet about Brad’s post about Bessel’s book because it fits in with a phrase that I was reminded of again and again during the chaplain training that I finished going through Tuesday. Corporate Chaplains of America requires its chaplains to go through training twice a year. It is a good way of refocusing us on the basics of being a chaplain. Being a good chaplain is all about going back to the basics again and again. The statement that kept coming up during the training was “What’s the why behind the “why?” In other words, someone just came up and asked me a question and it is very easy for me to jump into trying to answer that question or fix that problem, instead of stopping and actually exploring why that question was asked in the first place. This is often phrased as “what’s the question behind the question”, but I really like the “why behind the why”.

Why is this person really asking this question? If I go down that route of dealing with the initial question am I actually missing the point? Are they asking me this to see if I will just assume that I understand what they are going through and thereby stop listening to them? Is this question really a test to see if i am safe? Trustworthy? Caring? Why is this question really being asked?

The covenant name of God is Yahweh, I am that I am. The influential American theologian Paul Tillich described the essence of God’s covenant name as “being” specifically the “being there”. God is the One who is truly there in the moment, He is the eternal present, He is “God with Us”, bringing the future and the past into the present rather than having the present derailed by the future or the past. When we walk in His way we are there too. As nuts as I often think much of Tillich’s thought is I really like his focus on being and being there. Here’s one quote from him:

“Whenever a human being says, ‘Now I am living; now I am really present,’ resisting the stream which drives the future into the past, eternity is. In each such Now eternity is made manifest; in every real now, eternity is present.”

Paul Tillich, “The Mystery of Time,” in The Shaking of the Foundations

Jumping to answering the initial question is the domination of the future or the past. “Let me fix that” takes me out of the present moment and specifically takes me out of being there with the person who is asking the question. “What is really going on here at this moment? What is the person in front of me, who bears the imago dei, really dealing with and how can I be here with them?” Emmanuel is with us to the point that He understands the “why behind the why” and thus responds to my fear and worries because He actually hears them rather than just the questions and statements that I initially make. I need to remember to do the same. To be present with those with whom I interact enough to hear the real need and be present in the real pain, rather than just trying to answer the first question. To be with them in the midst of a question that seemed to point to something else, until I was really there to hear the real reason the question was being asked.

Thanks Rachael, Brad, Bessel, and CCA for reminding me of this (and so many other things).

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