by Sherry Ward

Crisis Hotline Volunteer: Crisis Center.

Caller: Umm... yeah, is there anyone there I can talk to?

Crisis Hotline Volunteer: You can talk to me. How can I help you?

This is a standard beginning for the phone calls I took this past summer as a volunteer on our county's crisis hotline. From this jumping-off point, calls went anywhere from requests for information about county services to threats to commit suicide. It has been quite a summer! With the support and indulgence of my family, I have had the opportunity to spend roughly two hundred hours on the hotline. It has been eye-opening and at times heart-wrenching, but very satisfying and never dull.

Écouter et Répéter

When it was suggested to me that I try this work, I was elated and overwhelmed. The overwhelming part, though, was a byproduct of vanity. I thought, ``How can I solve all those problems?'' But then I realized that it is not my job or my gift to solve all those problems. It is also not my right to do so. That is God's job!

The job of a crisis counselor can be summarized in a phrase I often heard in my high school French class: écouter et répéter (``listen and repeat'').

The first part of the job is to genuinely listen. A number of our callers are lonely and just need a listening ear. Among the saddest calls I have taken are those from people with good news to share and no one with whom to share it. Imagine being so utterly alone that there is no one to hear your good news! Listening, a simple-sounding task, is actually very valuable.

But listening is easier to talk about than to do! We do not in this world tend to listen to one another. We are usually ten steps ahead in our own agendas-which is why we are often struck with realizations, long after the fact, of what someone really said. Sometimes what we missed is far more important than what we heard. When we are in fast forward, we aren't listening really, just picking up faint echoes of what we expect to hear. To listen, one must slow down and concentrate.

The second part of the job-repeating, rearticulating, restating what has been said-is necessary for two reasons. First, it shows people that they have truly been heard, which is not a small thing these days. Just as importantly, it gives a speaker the chance to hear, out loud, what he is thinking. If we live in a world where we tend not to listen to each other, we almost never listen to ourselves. Many times the answer to our problem lies in the questions we are asking. By patiently repeating a caller's words, a phone counselor can help lead him toward his own answers.

A Vital But Neglected Gift

I will continue to take advantage of the opportunity God has given me to volunteer at the Community Crisis Center. There are many lessons to be learned in this work. In particular, I am grateful beyond words for the intensity of this summer, because it has given me new appreciation for one of God's most-neglected gifts.

We live in an instant world, and I for one am not complaining. I love the internet and microwaves, telephones and jet planes. They can all be wonderful tools. It is when we begin to expect that we ourselves are meant to live in fast forward that life gets beyond our ability to handle. It is at those times that we tend to try to make God our pocket genie. It is at those times that we feel like failures because the ``health and wealth gospel'' fails us. Many of the callers to the crisis hotline are trapped in hectic lives and feel completely out of control.

King David's life was hectic, but he understood that no matter how fast-paced life was, he could find real peace by accepting God's invitation to ``lie down in green pastures.'' This is what our spirits demand if we are to be whole.

God has given us a special way to restore our souls. His gift to mental health is the Sabbath, our time to listen to and repeat God's word, to lie down in green pastures and walk beside still waters. What a gift the Sabbath is! It is not a cure-all by any means, but it does counterbalance a life generally lived in fast forward. It is a great aid to our well-being. Truly the Sabbath was made for man! (Mark 2:27)

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.01.
On 19 Oct 2001, 11:15.