Four years ago I attended the Stephen Ministry training class at our church. Stephen Ministry training equips you to provide confidential one-on-one support to another person who needs someone to walk alongside them for awhile. Since finishing that class I’ve served as a Stephen Minister and meet weekly with the person I’m assigned to.
One of the most powerful lessons I learned from Stephen Ministry training was how to listen well. It was actually quite shocking when I realized how poorly I do listen most of the time. In my daily life with family, friends, and co-workers I still struggle with this. What I’ve come to realize is that really knowing and trusting Jesus better enables me to listen well to other people.
Not all circumstances call for focused listening. If you’re discussing where to meet for dinner it would be silly. Plus I find listening well is tiring because it requires my mind to be fully engaged. Meditation is actually good practice for that aspect of it.
There are techniques for listening well that you can learn such as reflective listening and asking good questions, but the most important thing is what you are focused on. When you listen well you are completely focused on understanding the other person and clarifying with them what you understand.
When I’m talking with someone else and not listening well I typically respond by agreeing with them, offering a solution to some problem they mentioned, or telling my own story that’s tangentially related. All of these responses are selfish and put the focus of the conversation back on me. At times they may be appropriate, but in most cases I respond this way to meet my own needs for approval, being right, or looking smart.
Even agreeing with someone, which seems innocent enough, is expressing my own judgement of the situation. At worst it’s dishonest if I’m responding with a “yeah, i know” when I don’t really agree.
When I’m able to trust that Jesus knows me fully and loves me then I don’t need to seek approval from other people. I’ve found I’m more likely to listen well if I remember to pray right before the conversation. I specifically ask God to help me let go of all of my own stuff and completely focus on the other person. I ask Him to give me any words He wants me to say.
Since I’m not thinking about what I want to say next when I’m listening well it often means there is more silence than I’m comfortable with. In those moments I’m usually trying to process what the person has said and every once in a while the Holy Spirit will use that time of silence to give me words for the person or new insight to share with them. I’m always so incredibly blessed when this happens.
If the person I’m talking with is hurting or grieving or just mentioning an issue they’re having I remind myself that I can trust that Jesus is the cure-giver. He alone can meet their deepest needs and He doesn’t need me to solve their problems (in truth I can’t anyway).
One of our deepest needs as human beings is to be fully known and still loved. When I’m able to truly listen to someone without judgement and simply seek to understand them it gives that person a glimpse of what Jesus is like. This is what Jesus offers us. He knows everything about us, all of our messed up lives, and still He loves us more than we can imagine.