What is the most wonderful gift you can give a suffering person? You don’t have to go to the mall to buy it, you don’t have to wrap it, it’s free, and it is one of the most powerful ways to be God’s light to those who are struggling.
What do you think that gift is? It is listening, really listening to another person. Hearing his or her story. Helping the person tell his or her story. When we don’t know what to offer the people we care about, we can always just listen. Don’t ever forget the power of listening and the strength it takes just to be there. Not curing, but caring.
Years ago, I came across this example from the late Stephen Covey, author of the classic book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In it, he describes a conversation between a mother and daughter. I have always thought that it’s an excellent example of what happens when good intentions to “help” go off-track.
As you read the dialog below, ask yourself, is the mother in the following conversation really listening?
Mother: “Come on, honey, tell me how you feel? I know it’s hard, but I’ll try to understand.”
Daughter: “Oh, I don’t know, Mom. You’d think it was stupid.”
“Of course, I wouldn’t. You can tell me, honey. No one cares for you as much as I do. I’m only interested in your welfare. What makes you so unhappy?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“Come on, honey, what is it?”
“Well, to tell you the truth, I just don’t like school anymore.”
“WHAT? What do you mean you don’t like school? After all the sacrifices we’ve made for your education. Education is the foundation of your future. If you would apply yourself like your older sister does, you’d do better and then you’d like school. Time and time again we have told you to settle down. You’ve got the ability, but you just don’t apply yourself. Now try harder and get a positive attitude about it. Now go ahead and tell me how you feel.”
Was this mother really listening? Stephen Covey reminds us, “Most people listen with the intent to reply. They are either speaking or preparing to speak, and we have a tendency to try to rush in and fix things up with good advice.”
So remember, when we listen, let us just be there and let the person tell his or her story. Let’s not listen with the intent to simply reply or offer clichés or quick fixes. When we truly listen, we are giving a suffering friend a wonderful gift.