Caring to Listen
Caring for others whether as a full-time ministry or as a compassionate friendship requires an intentional desire and effort to care for the person. Listening is an outpouring of this intentionality. Listening is “focusing on what’s important regardless of all the distractions” (Schultz, 11). All of us face a plethora of distractions; our own needs, how tired or energized we feel, and what we should say in response to someone can all distract us from effectively listening. One of the challenges with listening is practicing “attending to reality”; seeing things as the way they are rather than how we think they ought to be. It is learning to pay attention to and focus on things outside of our own feelings and desires and to be present with and attentive to others (Schultz, 12, 16).
How it works
A simple google search will show that there are many tips for becoming a better listener. However, probably the most important tip when it comes to caring is the intent of your listening. Do you listen to someone while keeping an open mind and trying to understand what they are saying? Or do you listen to people while thinking of how to reply to them? A good caregiver does both. First, having an interest and love for the person gives you the motivation to truly understand not only the facts of the person’s hardship but the emotions that the person is expressing. This desire to know the person and help them in their struggle is important especially since most crises or friendship stages have periods when the person’s struggle is “unfamiliar, strange, or not already understood.” Seeking to understand the situation and better know the person also means remaining silent at times to allow the person to express themselves. Watching the person express nonverbal actions such as gestures or facial expressions helps determine what the person is feeling not only what they are trying to convey in their speech. In regards to the speech, listening for themes and main ideas helps you better recognize and understand the key issue. Also trying to understand the person’s viewpoint, assumptions, needs, and system of belief helps you know how to be able to help them and reply to them as well as simply empathize with them.
Time to reply
Timing is everything when it comes to listening. Knowing when to speak is a practice in discernment. But when the time comes to reply it is important to maintain your interest and humility. Remember that you do not have all the answers, in fact you may need to suggest that they speak about their struggle with someone who is more equipped to help. But also remember that God often provides us with wisdom and resources to provide a helpful answer. Pray for wisdom and guidance and rely upon Scripture when wondering how to help someone. Next, provide choices in your reply. Select different options or ideas of advice that you would give them and allow them to decide which idea would help for their next step. Finally, consistently give encouragement and continue to try to understand what the person is going through. Most of the time, we will not understand someone’s circumstances after the first conversation with them. There always seems like there is more to learn and understand. Continue to grow together in a trusting, caring relationship; listening and loving all along the way.
Calvary Baptist Church, Care Ministry Manual. Grand Rapids, Mi: 2010.
Presley, Mark. Wright, Norman. Crisis Care, Hope for the Hurting. Richardson, TX: Grace Products Corporation, 1996.
Schultze, Quentin. Badzinski, Diane. An Essential Guide to Interpersonal Communication. Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Publishing, 2015.