I love serving at Room in the Inn at my church during the colder months of the year. It helps more than anything to get me out of myself and into a more others-centered mind frame.
Tonight, I went to a dinner where Dr. Ken Corr, Congregational Care Minister at Brentwood Baptist Church, spoke about how to effectively minister to the homeless. One of the takeaways for me was empathetic listening.
Empathetic listening seeks to understand what the person speaking is feeling. It’s where you step into that person’s shoes and hear the story from their side.
It’s not about giving advice or trying to fix their story to make it better. It’s not even about offering to give their story a better outcome. It’s certainly not about formulating your response (as I have so often done) so that you will come across as wiser and kinder than you really are.
For someone to tell you their story is a rare and precious gift. They are inviting you into their private world, letting you in to a place that few people have been allowed. You should value that trust and respect the gift.
But also, the gift of truly listening is equally a special gift to someone. You’re saying to that person, “You are not invisible, because I see you in your struggles and triumphs, joys and pains. You are not alone, because I am a witness to your story and I know where you’ve been and what you’ve been through.”
You earn the right to speak life and blessing into a person’s life by listening to not just their words, but the feelings behind those words. Many times, the person will be unable to understand their own feelings related to their story. You can share what their story made you feel and in that way help them understand their own emotions.
I want to be a better listener. I want to learn to listen to what you have to say, for that is one of the ways God often speaks to me. May we all learn to listen well.