I just got back from a beautiful week at a retreat center where I began my training to be a spiritual director (spiritual guide). I’ve got two more full weeks to go in the next year before I “graduate,” but I gathered so many great ideas, I want to share some of them with you!
Jesus usually listened without judging, interrupting, or pushing. Yes, he was tough on those who resisted God’s truth, but very gentle when someone was seeking it with an open heart. Like Jesus, we can gently accompany people toward God in our everyday relationships.
Sometimes we find ourselves talking to a friend whose mother has just died. Or a co-worker who is considering retiring. Or a nephew who wants to drop out of college or get a divorce. We know we’re not qualified to make it okay for them or do what a therapist would do, but still want to console them in their pain and give them a word of hope.
When God puts you in a conversation where you don’t really know what to say, here are 5 ways to listen like Jesus!
Listen with one ear on the Holy Spirit and one ear on the seeker
Many of us are so used to hearing someone’s problem with an eye to “fixing it,” we can forget that it’s really God who guides them to the solution, not us. Listening to the still, small voice of God in what the person is saying helps us to walk with them as they discover the answer that God is trying to whisper in their ear.
Ask open-ended questions
Instead of responding with statements, consider starting questions with, “I wonder if….” or “Where is God in all of this?” That helps us to park our ego at the door and wait on the Holy Spirit to guide the conversation as the other person seeks the truthful solution to his problem.
Keep the goal in mind
It’s easier to be present if we remember that the goal of any spiritual seeking is to be closer to the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The solving of a problem grows out of that union with God. If we keep first things first, we and the other person will be more relaxed and receptive to God’s way of comforting or guiding them.
Be the image of God to them
As you walk with them through their difficulty, picture yourself as representing God in your acceptance and gentle attitude. As the old song goes, “Only love can break a heart; only love can mend it again.” The love we have for God that grows from our own prayer life will provide a way of showing a gentle heart and being a listening ear for the precious soul that God is guiding, through us, right now.
Being present doesn’t mean we don’t respond or don’t say anything. It means keeping in mind that God is in charge of this conversation and is guiding the other person in his own way and his time. Even if we’re sure we know the answer to the problem, it is for us to be present as the other person discovers it himself with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.