By Jen Jang
As we continue to talk about the art of listening, we’ll now discuss a few specific skills. To start, here’s a question for you to answer: When you’re listening to someone talk, are you actually listening or are you thinking of what you’re going to say next? This diagnostic question is a good place to start.
In general, we want to be active listeners who are present with the person speaking. What are some ways we can be attentive and present? First, while someone shares we can periodically rephrase what they said. Rephrasing includes giving a concise summary. This serves three purposes: 1) you can check that your understanding is correct, 2) the speaker feels understood, and 3) the speaker can reflect on and hear his/her own thoughts and feelings.
Second, to be active and present listeners, we should avoid jumping to conclusions or incorrectly filling in the blanks based on our own similar experiences. For example, because we have experienced anxiety with academics before, we may assume that we know the reasons someone else experiences anxiety with school. We may have had anxiety with grades, because we desired control, like securing a comfortable future. However, someone else may struggle with anxiety with grades, because they find their identity in being successful. By “copying and pasting” our experiences, we may be listening more to our own stories rather than listening to the speaker’s story. We can miss precious opportunities to know him/her deeper and better.
Third, be prayerful and rely on the Holy Spirit to guide you. As you meet with someone and listen, humbly ask the Spirit to be present and to give you the words to speak. Further, you can begin and end a meet-up by praying with the other person, in which you are acknowledging your reliance on God together. During your conversation, you can also actively and privately pray for the person in your mind. One private prayer that I’ve found helpful is a confession that I cannot change the person but that the Lord can. While you pray, you can lift up the person and give their struggles, suffering, and sin to the Lord. In this way, the burdens are cast upon the rightful throne of the High Priest, not the throne of yourself.
These are just a few strategies to utilize when listening. Now we hope to end on an encouraging rather than instructive note. You and I may not be the best listeners. Even when we have grown in our listening skills, we will still misunderstand people from time to time. But rest assure, that while we may not hear everything someone shares with us, the Lord does. The Psalms are filled with beautiful reminders that the Lord is a listening and knowing God. When someone comes to you with a heavy heart, remember who is listening to their story with you.
“In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ear” (Psalm 18:6).