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Listening at Church: Do We Dismiss What Causes Others Pain?

by | Jul. 27, 2019

Makes You Think

“If a patient comes into your office saying they are having the worst headache of their life, you send them to the hospital!” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that from my professors in chiropractic school, I probably could have graduated debt free.

Headaches come in all shapes and sizes, but most of them, although miserable, are relatively benign. Occasionally, however, they can present as a symptom of more ominous problems. This is why my professors pounded this red flag warning into our brains—so we would never miss this serious kind of headache should it one day walk into our offices.

However useful this little rule of thumb was in practice, it offered me nothing but panic when one night, only six months after my graduation, my wife woke me up in tears. Gripping her head in pain and rocking back and forth, she exclaimed in agony, “I am having the worst headache of my life!”

Instantly wide awake, I went into some combination of doctor/husband mode and began frantically asking questions to try and assess, diagnose, and hopefully fix the problem. My wife tried her best to answer my questions, but I could tell it took all the mental energy she could muster just to provide a semi-coherent response. Finally, she interrupted what must have been my 30th question and pleaded, “Can you please take the clock down?”

I felt a sudden relief wash over me as my mind went back to the countless mock headache scenarios I had studied in school. A patient would be agitated by the sound of a clock if they had a high sensitivity to sound, and the type of headache that presents with severe pain and a high sound sensitivity is…..a migraine. Migraines, although miserable to experience, generally are not life-threatening and can be managed with some preventative care. I sighed with relief.

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There was only one problem with my wife’s request: there were no clocks in our bedroom. The only form of a clock that exists in the room is a tiny battery-powered alarm clock about the size of an orange that I have had since my mission. Although technically a clock, it produces no light or sound without the push of a button, so I knew it was not the culprit. She desperately asked again, “Can you please take the clock down?” I frantically scanned the pitch-black room. “What on earth is she talking about?” I asked myself. “Maybe she is hallucinating and this is worse than I initially thought.” Finally, a third time with complete distress in her voice she cried out, “Can you please just take the clock down!”

Suddenly, in what felt like a moment from a movie, my hearing hyper-focused with laser beam acuteness and I heard the faintest “Tick…..tick…..tick.” “The bathroom!” I thought. I had honestly never even noticed that the bathroom clock had an audible tick, and even to this day struggle to hear it, but we do have a clock that hangs in our bathroom. I quickly ran to it, ripped it off the wall, threw it into the closet, and began piling clothes on top to completely silence the thing once and for all.

My wife patiently endured the migraine until it passed and everything ended up being fine, but I have reflected on this experience again and again. How did that happen? Why was it that my wife was able to hear the clock and I was not? Then one day it hit me: she was able to hear the clock because it was causing her pain that it was not causing me. 

Church “Clocks”

In church, there are many things that we fail to hear or recognize simply because they do not personally affect us. I wish I could say that the bathroom clock was the first “clock” in my life that I did not hear, but it was not. If I am honest, there has certainly been an LGBTQ person who felt like there was no space for them in my pew, and I dismissed their pain as “their problem.” There have probably been women who expressed feeling pedestalled yet undervalued whom I simply disregarded, not seeing it that way. There was likely someone who struggled coming to church because no one in the ward seemed to look like them or understand their background, and my sentiments were, “Get over it; you are being too sensitive.”

When my wife requested that I take the clock down, it would have been strange for me to just ignore her or say there was nothing wrong. It seems almost laughable to imagine me saying, “You are the one with the problem,” or “Toughen up, you are being too sensitive.” Yet, so often in other scenarios, my tendency has always been to overlook things that did not affect me.

Maybe the greatest lesson we can learn from Christ stopping for the woman with an issue of blood was not His ability to heal her but rather His ability to even notice her in the first place. Could it be that God often speaks to us in such a still, small voice so that our spiritual ears can become more adept at hearing the faint ticking clocks in His children all around us? Perhaps the most important words we can take from the Savior’s ministry, small as they may seem, are found in His repeated counsel, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:15)

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Lead image from Getty Images

Ian Calk is a returned missionary and lifelong member of the Church from South Carolina. Currently living with his wife in Atlanta, he works as a sports chiropractor and is the frontman for his band, The Outview, as well as a co-founder of the Atlanta-based LDS LGBTQ group Rise.  He has also been a guest discussing LGBTQ and faith crisis issues on various podcasts.

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