I sat with a woman for two hours, listening to generous details of her life and journey. It was hard work. Hard work to stay present with her, to not zone out and take a mental holiday some place else. I was aware of my need to pray and stay connected to God as I stayed connected to her and her story.
After some time, the folds of her heart began to open. Tears flowed freely, pooling in her eyes and overflowing onto her cheeks. She spoke of things that she hadn’t expressed outside her own head. She spoke words that for the first time her ears heard her own voice speak. Words that needed to come out. Words that had been imprisoned and longed to be set free.
As I listened, occasionally asking a question, adding a cup full of thoughts in a torrent of hers, I knew some things. I knew, as I listened to her and listened to the Spirit, that she needed me to give her “permission” to feel. She needed to know that she wasn't crazy or cruel to desire what she desires. I affirmed her longings and her questions.
Afterwards, she hugged and thanked me for listening. Something so ordinary, a gift that one would think natural and to be expected. She expressed to me how much it meant to be heard. I have pondered her response and felt deep joy while at the same time perplexed. Why is active listening so hard to do? Why is active listening so rarely offered? How many people in my life have I missed hearing? Has anyone really heard me?
Here are some questions to help you be an active listener. The next time you sit with a friend, set the table for rich conversation by asking:
- What is important to you right now that you would like for me to know?
- How did/do you feel about that?
- Can you tell me more?
- What do you mean? Can you give me an example?
- Where is God in this?