Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Jethro and stress management

The Book of Exodus, Chapter 18    Exodus 18 

We have an excellent example of stress management in Scripture, Exodus 18, where Jethro, father in law of Moses, comes with his wife and children who have been away while he led the Hebrew people out of Egypt. Jethro first listens to what Moses is going through as leader of the Hebrew people in the wilderness.  

 Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the Lord had delivered them. (Exodus 18:8, RSV)

the next day Jethro observes Moses at work and he comes to a conclusion.

17 Moses' father-in-law said to him, "What you are doing is not good.  18 You and the people with you will wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you; you are not able to perform it alone. (Exodus 18:17 RSV)

In our current language I say Jethro engages in stress management. He sees Moses headed toward “burn out.”  Both the hearing and the seeing followed by reflecting on what he heard and saw lead to counsel for reorganizing how the work will be done in the future.

What is most significant, Jethro begins first with a day of listening and next with a day of observing. 

He is very up front in sharing his conclusion afterwards. We could say he first uses his ears and eyes for data collecting. Then he is ready to make a suggestion. 

The people are divided into groups of ten and then hundreds.

The work of settling disputes will be shared with the people. Moses will get the more difficult cases. I like to read this Scripture account as the birth of lay ministry. Leadership becomes bottom up as much as of top down. Today we might say, the ministry of the whole church, ordained and lay together, mutual ministry.

His suggestion is in part top down but more accurately bottom up. The Jethro method allows for keeping the learning close to the practice. This approach relates to what I know as reflective listening and reflective learning.

In 1975 I made a hospital visit that turned out to be a bottom up change in how listening training was done with the Befrienders, story listeners, and later with health care professionals. Reflective listening and learning were employed.

Mr. Gebelstein was a teen age neighbor when my father was a fiddle player for barn dances out in Cedar County. I met him as a much older man having surgery at St. Luke’s hospital.  I arranged to tape record his early story and learn more about my father who died young. As we were recording he told me a friend came to see him advising “you have to stay with the boat.” I thought that strange since we had just read a portion of the Noah story in Chapel. Upon questioning he explained further, “you have to stay with the boat in order to survive.” Later I said I had a violin and the bow but the strings were worn out. He said, “O yes, we all wear out.” He was more interested in talking about survival than doing the tape. I became the chaplain like I was called to be and received a lesson in how a patient moves language metaphorically when he thinks he will not survive the surgery. The art of story metaphor listening was the outcome and it led to a whole new listening approach. I have the lesson on tape in case I forget. 

Like Jethro, I kept the learning close to the practice. 

Marlin Whitmer, BCC

retired hospital chaplain.

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