Hi guys, it’s been a while. I think I decided that I wanted to change up the content of the site a tiny bit – being able to post detailed “sermons” on biblical teaching regularly will be a bit of a challenge. I’m going to update things with a bit more slice-of-life everyday occurrences, journal entries, and bits of wisdom I pick up here and there.
So, this gem comes from a really terrible story. (Well, it’s not THAT bad). Basically, I got stuck in an airport for 8 hours. My flight got delayed, which would make me miss my stopover. I called customer service and got scheduled for a flight 8 hours later – so I decided I could either explore the city (Seattle) or read for 8 hours. Uh…guess which one I chose…lol.
So, I reread this book – The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. It’s a good one. Read it if you haven’t already. The premise of the book is that the main character, Holden, is struggling to come to terms with the loss of innocence of others, and how people transform into phony, superficial beings who don’t know anything about anything important. This struggle is made more personal to him by the loss of his brother Allie a couple years ago, who, to him, represents innocence – Holden has nothing but kind things to say about his brother, painting an idealized version of childhood.
But, the main thing about the book is that Holden is a tormented soul. He gets kicked out of school so he decides to blow the cash he has on a fancy weekend in NYC rather than go back to his parents early. During this time, we get an interesting case study of Holden. He seems incapable of connecting with anyone he truly cares about, but all too ready to shoot the shit with strangers. There’s nothing inherently wrong with making new friends, but I feel that Holden has a lot more in common with the phonies he despises than he knows. He’s essentially coming up to people seemingly with the intention to connect with them or have a good time – but the real reason he’s seeking out human contact from literally anybody is to cope with his crushing loneliness. He even asks his rude taxi driver if he wants to go out for drinks.
Holden is desperate to make any sort of human connection whatsoever; yet, he can’t bring himself to call the girl he really loves. Instead, he wanders around in limbo for a couple days, getting more and more depressed. The climax of the book comes when he decides to visit his sister at her school, and wistfully reminisces on simpler times, where nothing changed. He loves the “museum of the Indians” specifically because it never changes – that’s Holden’s ideal world. A world of childhood that never grew into adulthood. An uncorrupted soul.
However, despite his inner torment, with the few friends he has, Holden acts like a complete doof rather than talk about how he’s really feeling. He’s somewhat rude, and utterly fails to connect with them on any sort of real level because he seems scared of going deep, ironically.
I haven’t mentioned this yet, but I actually used to really relate to Holden’s situation in high school – so this book, and the insight I gleaned from it, is even more personal to me.
Basically, I realized that everyone who tries to connect with Holden fails for one specific reason: they’re trying to change him. He believes he can’t be changed, so this depresses him and causes him to shut down. As I read the book more and more, all I could think about was how much Holden just needed someone to understand his situation! It wouldn’t be so tormenting if someone else just understood!
Then, I realized two crucial things. First, the greatest gift one person can give another is to listen to them until they are fully understood. Second, the only way to get there is to let go, temporarily, of your own agenda. Everyone in the book fails to really understand Holden, even those who are really trying. I thought, “Why is that?” Then, I realized it’s because they have something to say to him. They have something to teach him. They have something to tell him. And, because they have something to say, they completely fail to listen. They completely fail to provide what Holden ACTUALLY needs.
Mr. Antolini fails because he’s trying to use Holden’s dropping out as a teachable moment – Which it is!! It’s a prime moment for teaching! In fact, Mr. Antolini’s words haunted me then and they still haunt me now.
I don’t want to scare you. But I can very clearly see you dying nobly, one way or another, for some highly unworthy cause…“The mark of the immature man is that wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.
It’s an insanely wise teaching! Hearing those words in high school, when I couldn’t see how I could ever fit into and live in this world, when my secret ambition was to die for something worthy so I wouldn’t have to live (but I was tempted to settle for anything, even something unworthy)…I literally had to stop reading the book for a bit. The same exact thing happened when I read it in the airport. The same flood of emotions hit me like a ton of bricks.
However, all of this goes over Holden’s head! I can’t help but think of my own interactions with my sister, where I’m trying to give some of the best advice I’ve ever learned, but she can’t internalize it if she doesn’t believe she’s capable of it. (I still have a lot to learn when it comes to mentoring, haha.)
And, either way, even though Holden is desperately in need of a mentor figure to provide wisdom – that is not what he needs RIGHT NOW. In fact, all he really needs is someone to understand him, so that the griping pit in his stomach can finally be filled. Reading this book, I really dived deep into Holden’s emotions. He just wanted to be understood, and felt so ineffably sad every time someone rebuffed him, scoffed at his genuine questions, or just simply didn’t get it and called him a weirdo.
So, Mr. Antolini sees a PRIME teaching moment and goes for it. What he doesn’t see is the invisible agony being hidden just below the surface by a teenage boy who doesn’t know how to express his profound weariness with life with others.
My question to you, and to myself is: How many times have we seen a prime teaching moment and given advice, when all someone needed was someone to listen?
And, here’s what I think. There’s not a single person on this planet that couldn’t benefit from being understood more. And the VAST MAJORITY of us are barely understood at all. I think that’s why everyone feels alone with their own thoughts, with their own inner self. I think we all yearn for someone to really get us and to validate us.
My first experience of this was with a few of my best friends, but my most profound experience was in knowing I had a creator who intentionally fashioned me the way that I am – and one who was in control of all that I had gone through previously. Someone who saw and understood every feeling that went into my heart. Someone who made me holy and blameless through the atoning work of Jesus. Someone who loves me with an unconditional love.
There’s something very powerful about being validated and understood. That’s why I honestly think it’s the best gift you can give someone else. So, I want to challenge you, and to challenge myself – to hesitate and consider whether giving advice is the best thing to do in a situation. Is there something going on under the surface? Could the other person be in a lot of pain and not know how to share?
I think it’s worth at least one probing question. And, here’s the thing – people can sense when you’re really willing to listen and understand. I can’t fully describe it, but it’s almost like they get this facial expression where they’re amazed and shocked and OPEN at the same time.
Listening to someone’s story, really listening, and then validating their feelings and asking a deeper question – it’s such a powerful way to interact with others.
I’m not saying that we should give up talking or joking or messing around, ever. Or even teaching. I think there’s a time and a place for teaching. It’s just important to determine whether teaching is really what someone needs at a certain moment. I think, over time, we’ll hone an intuition for it.
I’m right there with you. I’m not always sure when to do what. But I’m gonna try HARD to fully listen to someone before I give an answer.
I often have these interjecting thoughts. Where, if someone mentions a negative thought about themself that is clearly not true, I will have the refutation for that prepared in my mind in a heartbeat. Or, if someone is talking and I sense something that I could benefit them by answering, I am so tempted to go straight into that.
But, I’m going to try to hold my tongue until I receive a full understanding of the other person, and then, after that, begin to address whatever problems they may have.
So, let’s keep working towards it, together. To a healthier, more compassionate world.