Sarah and Charlene were sitting at a table for two at an outdoor café. They’d sipped coffee and shared small talk and now Sarah was ready to broach the subject of something personal that she needed to get off her chest. “Charlene, I’m so glad we were finally able to get together. I’ve been going through something really tough and have needed a friend to share it with because I feel so overwhelmed.” Sarah cupped her warm mug with both hands as she let out a sigh. Charlene smiled at her friend and responded, “Sure! I’m glad I can be here for you.”
Sarah began to share what was on her heart. But, Charlene was easily distracted by the buzz of her cell phone and began reading messages from someone else. Now, instead of giving Sarah her undivided attention, Charlene was constantly glancing at the screen and her facial expressions revealed that she was more interested in those messages than in what her friend was sharing. Sarah’s heart sank as her words trailed off. Charlene hadn’t even noticed that Sarah had stopped talking.
I’ve been there. Have you? It’s hard to find someone who’ll really listen when you need it. Everyone’s so busy, distracted and maybe even disinterested. Yet the world is full of people who want to be heard, to be understood.
I’ll admit, though, that I’ve been on the other side of the table. Willfully distracted while my friend struggled to share the hurt they were going through, and not really connecting with them, unwilling to go the extra mile to truly understand them.
You’ve been there, too, haven’t you?
Cultivating relationships requires a number of key components, but one of the most important is listening well. One of the most frustrating things that can happen in a conversation between two people is when one person is talking and the other is people-watching or looking at their smart phone: totally disconnected.
Words aren’t merely words. There is always meaning behind them. There’s always emotion connected to them. You don’t have to be a psychologist to know how to listen well. A college education is not required.
Words aren’t merely words. There is always meaning behind them.
If you do a web search on “How to be a good listener” the results you’ll find are numerous. Website after website will offer countless ways to enhance your listening skills. Yet, in the world we find very few people who actually practice these skills.
I’d like to offer my two cents, but with a twist: How to be a listener who has eternity in mind. You see, it’s not enough just to sit with a friend and hear them talk. We need to keep in mind that we are vessels that God wants to use to show love and hope.
Sometimes you’ll know ahead of time that a friend wants to talk to you about something they have on their mind. Other times it may seem like it’s coming out of left field. Either way you can prepare yourself to be the listener your friend needs.
Realize and accept the following:
→ They are trusting you with immensely personal thoughts that they’ve, quite possibly, no intention of sharing with anyone else.
→ Unless they come right out and say it, they are not asking you for answers or wanting you to solve their problem.
→ They ache for someone to just understand them and to share their burden because it’s gotten too heavy.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10
Here are some steps to follow when taking time to listen to your friend:
→ Pray. Do this silently as your friend begins to share and throughout your time together. Ask God to help them verbalize what they’re trying to communicate. Pray that you may be able to capture the heart of the matter and that, if needed, that God would give you the precise words and actions needed to respond so that you’re friend is filled with hope.
→ Put the smart phone away. Put it far enough away from you so that the buzzing of incoming messages or phone calls will not distract you. Let your spouse and/or children know ahead of time that you can’t be interrupted.
→ Make eye contact. And keep it. If the eyes are the window to the soul this is your chance to really connect with your friend. You’ll be able to read their emotions as well as confirm for them that you really care about them and what they are trying to communicate.
→ Don’t interrupt. You may be tempted to share something similar that has happened to you. Don’t. Keep focusing on them.
→ Ask questions only when they are stumbling to verbalize something. You may be intrigued by something that your friend is saying and be tempted to ask follow-up questions. This can lead to going down rabbit trails that have nothing to do with the heart of the matter. Realize that if you do this you are doing it for your own curiosity and not for your friend’s best interest. Ask questions like, “How did that make you feel?” when you sense that they are struggling to pinpoint an emotion or make sense out of a confusing situation.
→ Don’t judge. As their story unfolds, you may hear things that you don’t agree with, obvious sins that you know offend God. You must trust that God is already at work in their lives and that now is not the time to point those sins out. Your job is to listen.
→ Take mental notes. As you listen to your friend identify key themes they’ve touched on. When they’ve finished sharing repeat back to them what you think they meant and ask them to clarify anything you may have misinterpreted. Doing this will help with two things: 1. Your friend will be able to hone in on the true heart of the matter so that they are able to move forward. 2. They will know and be comforted by the fact that you have connected with them on a deeper level.
→ Pray with them. Don’t just pray for them. Pray with them. Invite your friend to express their heart directly to God. If they accept the invitation it means they are willing to take a step forward towards healing. Then take a moment to pray for them, reciting back to God his promises to his children and asking him to perform a supernatural work in the situation.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15
As Christians we are called to “love one another” (John 13:34) and one concrete way we can do that is to listen, really listen, when our friends need us to. It’s not as easy as you think it is. It means we need to be selfless. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3, 4) We must be like Christ, who humbled himself for our sake.
Listening with eternity in mind means that we are ministering to our friends in such a way that Christ is honored and imitated. It means that we love another person the way that God calls us to love them. It means forgetting our own needs for a while so that another soul feels that they matter, that they are understood.
Your goal, in becoming the listener your friend needs, is to point them to God. By the time you and your friend have finished sharing they will have felt the embrace of their Heavenly Father. They should walk away feeling a sense of eternal hope and a peace that this world cannot comprehend.
My prayer is that we all become the listeners our friends need. What a privilege we have to be able to be used of God in this way. We don’t have to be perfect, just willing to be a vessel.
Be blessed…be a blessing!
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