Listen with All Your Heart
I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly. He said things I knew were true.
I was unmoved, except to wish he’d go away. He finally did.
Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask me leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour and more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left.
I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.
Joe Bayly, The View from a Hearse
When people suffer, they may feel emotions they never felt before. They may ask questions they had never thought to ask. They may say things they never dared to say before. They may repeat the same stories or ask the same questions over and over again. Through it all, they need someone who loves them enough to listen.
In order to know how you can encourage your friend’s heart, you will need to become a perceptive listener. Listen for keywords, a different tone of voice, or a change in emphasis that reveals whether your friend is currently on level ground, on an uphill climb, or headed for a downhill slide. Listen carefully to know whether you should ask questions that will lead your friend to share deeper emotions, or whether it is best to tune your heart to hear every nuance of your friend’s silence.
If you tend to take the lead in conversations, learn to set aside your “itinerary.” You may assume your friend wants to talk about an upcoming treatment or recent test result. Your friend, on the other hand, may want to set aside the “heavy” stuff and talk about the latest movie or laugh about a shared memory. Allow your friend to lead your ears and heart into the territory he or she has chosen. You may be in for a surprising journey!
Key to Walking the Path of Encouragement
Statements and questions that a good listener will sometimes use to help a hurting friend express deep, inner feelings:
- Is anything troubling you right now? Would you like to talk about it?
- I promise not to interrupt.
- We have talked about everyone else. Now tell me, how are you doing?
- Tell me your story.
- What are you doing for yourself?
- You have my undivided attention.
- That seems difficult for you. Would you like to talk about it more?
- Please tell me what you want me to know about you today.
Practical Ways to Bear the Burden, Lighten the Load
- The act of kindness that ministers to me the most is when someone prepares a meal for me. I know the love and the sacrifice of time that goes into preparing it. – Judy Lattman
- It meant so much for friends to come and sit with us or listen to us if we needed to talk or cry. To know that someone had cleared a busy schedule to come to our side, to be with us was the most tangible display of “denying self” that we witnessed. – Candy Cooper
- One of our friends was scared to death of flying, but she stepped way out of her “comfort zone” and got on an airplane with her husband just to be with me during one of my surgeries. That is a gift of one’s self. – Dave and Jan Dravecky
- Give your friend a haircut, manicure, facial, or new hairstyle. A fresh look, and knowing that someone still cares to help him or her look good can be an encouragement. Of course, if these things aren’t your personal forte, hire someone else to do the job! – Amanda Sorenson
- For three months we were at the hospital for thirteen to fourteen hours a day. Neighbors took turns and walked our little dog who was home alone. – Sara Hines