The First Step in Listening Well

Boy did I blow it. 

A friend was sharing her heart with me. Tender thoughts. Frightening possibilities. Hard questions with no easy answers. As I listened to her plight, my theology engine kicked in. Which is often a good thing. But not this time. 

When she finished, I responded with a strong and compelling argument why she shouldn’t be afraid. I had three Bible verses, a hero-of-the-faith story, and a personal example of how I had faced a similarly-frightening situation and come out spiritually stronger because of it. She nodded, but I could tell my words hadn’t calmed her heart. 

Reflecting on the conversation later (which is a nice way of saying, God took me to task over it), I realized how I had failed my friend. She had come to me with a need, and I had totally missed it. Instead of encouraging her, I added weight to her already-burdened shoulders. 

Listening to the quiet voice of the Lord, I realized that none of my responses were inherently wrong, just ill-timed. 

Did she need to be reminded of God’s sovereignty? Yes. 

Were the Bible verses I quoted appropriate and powerful? Yes. 

Were the stories I shared true and inspiring? Yes. 

Because I love my friend, I wanted to fix her situation – to ride in on the white horse of God’s deliverance, brandish my faith sword, and watch the fear demons scatter. But at that moment, she didn’t need a theological pep talk. She just needed me to listen. And empathize. And remind her of God’s love. 

Perhaps God’s Spirit might have steered our conversation to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, the Scripture, or the stories, but in order for those truths to take root, I needed to soften the soil of her heart with tender mercies, and compassion. 

“No one cares how much you know,” someone once said, “until they know how much you care.” So often my left-brained, logical, get-er-done self wants to dispense heart medicine before I’ve even listened to it beat. 

Thankfully, as I prayed for my friend later that day, the Lord showed me where I had erred. As soon as I could, I reached out to her and apologized for my insensitivity. 

“No worries,” she said. “I know you care.” 

I’m thankful for the valuable lesson I learned that day, one I suspect I’ll have to revisit often: Don’t just listen to their words. Listen to their heart. 

What about you? Are you also quick to dispense spiritual medicine before you’ve thoroughly assessed the patient’s needs? What steps have you taken to become “quick to hear and slow to speak”? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

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  1. Hi Lori, this is a great post. It reminds me of how, when a friend wants to unload on me, I tend to add my experience to hers, instead of just listening. Its awful when I see in retrospect how I handled things. God bless

    1. Oh Tracy, I hear you. I'm so thankful God continues to teach us how to be. It only people if truth, but people of compassion. May he continue to grow this virtue in us! Blessings to you, friend.

  2. Holy smokes! I'm guilty of this too often! I go straight to wanting to fix the problem. I definitely need this reminder. Even though I don't want friends to suffer, I hope this read was a well-timed reminder so I can empathize first before speaking truth into their hearts.

    1. Oh yes. It's a firstborn fix it trait. So glad God loves is THEN fixes us. A great example to follow. :)

  3. Truer words have never been spoken (or written). Often people need us to listen and care, not to "fix" whatever's going on.

  4. So often my sentences used to begin -"What I think you need..."
    God said to me "It isn't about what you think."
    Great reminder of a valuable lesson.

    1. Ouch. I'm so thankful (in a painful sort of way) for God's correction. Thanks for chiming in, Cindy.


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