The ability to truly listen to others is an art. We are busy and often distracted, not always listening with our whole heart to those around us. What are they really saying? We can uncover the true feelings behind the words only when we are listening with our full attention.
Consider these six aspects to giving someone a listening heart:
1. A listening heart stops and listens. This may mean stopping what you are doing at the moment and turning your full attention on the people speaking to you. Look them in the eye, and repeat what they told you. Focus on what they are saying, and, more important, what their words truly mean. When people wanted to speak with Jesus, He gave them His full attention. He didn’t tell them to come back later when the crowds were smaller or when He wasn’t hungry.
My daughter is excitable and passionate about her life. When she has something going on—a plan, question, or something she wants to tell me about—she wants to talk to me right then. I can’t always stop what I’m doing, turn to face her, and become an active listener, but I’ve found a new joy when I am able to do that.
2. A listening heart doesn’t judge. People with a problem that is embarrassing or traumatic may be afraid to talk to anyone. If the person they’re sharing with reacts judgmentally or with shock, they stop sharing.
When my husband lost his third job in five years because of companies closing and laying off all their employees, some of our friends and family shook their heads and wondered aloud at the reason for God’s punishment. Their reactions hurt far worse than the job problems. Rather than considering our situation to be the result of companies making poor decisions or part of a larger plan for our lives, they urged Richard to settle for less. They didn’t want to listen to his fears, frustrations, and needs. Others, however, heard us out, prayed with us, and suggested that God had better plans. He did. My husband left the business world, got back into teaching, and has been a well-loved and respected teacher for 13 years.
3. A listening heart empathizes. Empathy is defined as “understanding, being aware of, or being sensitive to the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another.” The Bible explains it this way: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
We all need someone who is willing to empathize with us when we’re in pain. And we can’t wait to find someone to share our joys, to be as excited as if they were their own. “That’s nice” or “Too bad” isn’t what people are looking for when they tell about the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to them or share the fear that their spouse is having an affair.
4. A listening heart avoids platitudes: “Don’t worry; everything will work out OK.” “Give it time.” “If your faith were stronger, this wouldn’t happen.” Statements such as these won’t soothe people’s hurts. Pat answers grow stale quickly, and they do not comfort.
When, after five years of praying for a baby, I was told I was pregnant, it didn’t take long for my husband and me to share the good news with everyone we knew. Six weeks later, when the doctor discovered he had been wrong, that it had been an “emotional” false pregnancy, we shared the painful news with our friends and family, too. Those who had experienced miscarriages helped us through our grieving process. They listened, knowing there weren’t any words to make things better. Sometimes, a listening heart is a quiet one.
A listening heart takes the time to speak comforting words as individual as the situation. Be honest. Maybe you need time to think about what they’re telling you. Maybe you don’t have any answers to offer, only a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes there isn’t an immediate answer, only immediate love.
5. A listening heart lets the tears flow. A listening heart isn’t afraid of tears. When a friend lost her father to Alzheimer’s, I didn’t know anything else to do but let her take time to cry. I didn’t try to stop her. I didn’t act embarrassed, irritated, or try to laugh it off. More than anything else, she needed me to be there to listen when she was ready to talk about her sorrow.
6. A listening heart remembers. I am often surprised and always pleased when people tell me the outcome of a situation I’d told them about weeks earlier. It shows they cared enough to listen, to remember, and to follow up.
Too often I’ve found myself guilty of forgetting what I’ve heard. For instance, perhaps someone has told me she is going for a follow-up visit to her gynecologist. If I’m not listening carefully, it doesn’t click until later when she reminds me that she had an appointment and learned the results were negative; she didn’t have cancer. If I had listened to what she was saying earlier and how she was saying it, I would have realized that my friend was afraid and trying to tell me something. I could have been a comfort. Developing a listening heart is a ministry to those we love. After all, the three middle letters of heart spell ear. So for all practical purposes, the heart has an ear.
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists