The Samaritans are a national organization in the United Kingdom, whose 20,000 volunteers listen. Every six seconds, day or night, someone contacts them. They help callers talk through their concerns, worries, and troubles.
Many years ago, my late wife and I had the privilege of training new volunteers at our then local branch. Now, the Lord has led me to use that experience to facilitate a course on listening skills at my church. In preparation, I visited the Samaritans' website, and found the acronym S.H.U.S.H. being used in a campaign to encourage the public to become better listeners. The Samaritans are, deliberately, a non-religious organization so that they are available for everybody, but I will add some Bible verses.
Show that you care. Give undivided attention. Remove any distractions. "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves." (Philippians 2:3 NIV 2011)
Have patience. It may take time before a person is ready to open up. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud." (1 Corinthians 13:4 NIV 2011)
Use open questions, those that need more than a yes/no answer. Focus on feelings rather than facts. Don't jump in with your own ideas. Use silence. "Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues." (Proverbs 10:19 NIV 2011)
Say it back to check that you have understood, but don't interrupt to offer a solution. "To answer before listening — that is folly and shame." (Proverbs 18:13 NIV 2011)
Have courage. Don't be put off by a negative response, and don't feel that you have to fill a silence. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (Philippians 4:6 NIV 2011)
We will need help from the Lord to put this into practice. Pray for discernment about the decision to really listen to the person rather than to have a two-way conversation, and for guidance to remember that this person is the expert on their own life and that the questions that we ask should guide them towards finding their own solutions.
A 19th century writer said it well:
- Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take them and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away. – Dinah Craik (1826-1887)
Prayer: O Lord, we thank You for Your greatest gift of love. Help us to take Your love and pass it to our neighbours by listening — really listening — to their troubles. Guide us as we listen, so that all that we do is an expression of Your love and so that Your will may be done. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.