Posts Tagged ‘Listening’

Heeding the Signs

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Oh, there are signs. We see them. We know what they say, what they mean. We even know they’re right and helpful. But do we heed them?

There has been some road construction on the highway that goes by our house. I drove through it a number of days ago.

There were signs up that warned of “Loose Gravel.” And indeed, when I drove through the construction on the first day, I had to drive very slowly on account of said loose gravel.

On the second day of construction, I got in my car to drive into town. As I was driving down the driveway toward the road, I noticed one of those “Loose Gravel” signs. I recalled how loose the gravel had been the day before.

I drove right up to the road and paused in my driveway to wait for a break in traffic.

Once I finally had my chance, I did as I’m used to doing and I pounced on the accelerator. You see, our driveway is not level with the roadway; we have a steep climb right at the end of our driveway to get up onto the road. I have to really give it the gas to get up and out.

But only, this time, when I gunned it, my tires didn’t grip right…because they had gotten caught up on some…loose gravel.

And I thought, gee, I sure wish someone would’ve warned me about that gravel being all loose like that. And all at once I remembered the construction and I looked up and noticed that “Loose Gravel” sign once again.

Oh, someone had warned me. But I forgot. I knew there was loose gravel. I had even seen that sign just minutes before my tires spun out.

The same type of thing happens in my spiritual life more often than I’d like to admit.

Just today something a friend wrote reminded me of a lesson that the Lord has been trying to impart to me repeatedly over the last several months. And every time I get these kinds of reminders about that particular lesson, I say, “Yes, Lord. I remember you telling me that before.”

I know the lesson pretty well on one level. I get what the Lord is trying to tell me. I know it is right and it is for my own good.

I hear the reminders and I know they’re true.

But then? Then, I forget.

All at once I forget and I revert back to my old ways, to what I’m used to doing instead of heeding the Lord’s message to me.

The old ways are so ingrained and it’s hard not to do it those ways. I mean, like putting the pedal to the metal to get out of my driveway, I do what I’ve always done in my life as well. I do what has worked for me in the past even when God has showed me clear signs to do it a new way.

I know I’m not perfect at heeding the signs Lord, but I thank you for providing them so generously. I do see them; I need your strength to obey.

What an Active Listener Does & Doesn’t Do

When we need to talk with someone we trust about a situation that is beyond our control, we need someone who will engage with us in active listening mode. First I’ll review what I mean by a situation beyond our control and then I’ll explain a little more about active listening.

In a previous post titled, 3 Different Challenges and the Types of Responses Needed, I defined “situations beyond our control” like this:

This can include anything from a major crisis (like the loss of a loved one) to an everyday emotional blow (like getting overlooked for something we really wanted to do). When things happen that we cannot control, oftentimes our emotions are high. Because we may not even know what all we’re feeling or why we’re feeling it, it is not a time for decisions.

Now, I’d like to spend some time talking about the “active listening” that often helps in these situations. Since we may sometimes be the listener and sometimes be the speaker, I am going to write about both listener and speaker in the third person.

What is an Active Listener?

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As the term “active” implies, the active listener is engaged deeply in listening to the speaker. A completely passive observer is not nearly as helpful as an active listener.

In addition to the Essential Traits of a Trustworthy Friend I posted previously, here are some important observations about what an active listener does and doesn’t do:

  1. An active listener asks clarifying questions when something is unclear. This can help the listener understand the speaker better, but can also help the speaker process the thoughts and emotions involved.
  2. An active listener takes care to key into important details about what the speaker is sharing. This requires a high level of attention to the speaker.
  3. An active listener observes verbal and non-verbal cues beyond the words used to more accurately interpret what is being expressed. Observing the speaker’s body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice can all help the listener understand the speaker.
  4. An active listener shows empathy and concern but does not have to adopt the speaker’s emotions about the situation. Simply acknowledging and helping to name the speaker’s emotions can help the speaker process the situation.
  5. An active listener avoids solving the problem for the speaker. The active listener does not try to “fix” the situation or the speaker, but gives the speaker the room to thoroughly process the situation at the speaker’s own pace.
  6. An active listener avoids judging the speaker for negative or extreme emotions expressed. The listener recognizes the extremes as part of the speaker’s way of processing or coming to terms with the situation.

As you can see “active listening” is a more than just sitting idly while someone rambles about a problem. Rather active listening is a dynamic process that can help when situations are out of control.

Note: much of what I have learned about “active listening” has come from my training as a Stephen Leader by Stephen Ministries of St. Louis.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like these other posts about “How Christian Community Helps us Face Challenges.” (Please click the titles below to go to the posts.)

4 Simple Reasons Talking About Hard Stuff Can Enhance Your Life

Essential Traits of a Trustworthy Friend

3 Different Challenges and the Types of Responses Needed

3 Different Challenges and the Types of Responses Needed

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When you’re facing a challenge and are ready to talk about it with a trusted friend, it can help to be clear about the kind of challenge you’re facing. Identifying the type of challenge can also help you be clear about the kind of help you’d like.

A classic dilemma in my life has been when I’m dealing with a disappointment and what I really need is just a listening ear. But if I’m not careful, all of a sudden I will get unsolicited advice from a well-intentioned friend who is in problem-solving mode.

I’ve identified at least three different major categories of challenges that we may face and the types of responses that are most likely to be helpful for each. I will deal with each of these in more detail in future posts, but briefly these are:

  1. Situations beyond our control: This can include anything from a major crisis (like the loss of a loved one) to an everyday emotional blow (like getting overlooked for something we really wanted to do). When things happen that we cannot control, oftentimes our emotions are high. Because we may not even know what all we’re feeling or why we’re feeling it, it is not a time for decisions. When we share about these types of situations, we most need someone who will engage with us in active listening mode.
  2. Sin issues: Unfortunately, sin is real and we’re all guilty of it more often than we like to admit. But sins that we hide have a way of compounding, increasing temptation and causing even more harm. When something we have done or something we have failed to do is holding us captive, we can always talk directly with God about it in prayer. Still, talking about it with a fellow Christian can help us unburden our hearts and minds. When we need to share in this way, it is most helpful to have someone who is willing to fully hear our confession and remind us of God’s love and grace.
  3. Practical dilemmas:If a challenge doesn’t fit the other two types above, it may be something for which advice is appropriate. Sometimes the challenges that we face in life are “nuts and bolts” issues that we cannot seem to resolve on our own. Sometimes we’re too close to a project or task and we need a second opinion. When we share these kinds of concerns what we most need is a friend with experience or expertise in that area who can enter problem-solving mode with us.

The more aware we are of the kind of challenge we’re facing, the better we can get the kind of help we need when we share. Hopefully these descriptions can help you direct how and with whom you share about particular challenges.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like these other posts about “How Christian Community Helps us Face Challenges.” (Please click the titles below to go to the posts.)

4 Simple Reasons Talking About Hard Stuff Can Enhance Your Life

Essential Traits of a Trustworthy Friend
What an Active Listener Does & Doesn’t Do

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