Most hurting women are dealing with some form of grief. The normal grief process for a severe loss takes at least two years. A grieving person needs time to sort, search, and regain strength. How then should you proceed if you truly want to help? Many times the best help comes from those who simply listen.
Developing active or reflective listening can help you minister more effectively. This type of listening empowers you to help individuals identify their own feelings, which become the starting point for all future actions. It requires intense concentration and is a process of feeding back or mirroring back that which is said by the person to whom you are listening. Key phrases in this process are: “It sounds as if…” or “I hear you saying…”
Active listening encourages clarification of feelings. After hearing her feelings expressed by someone else, the hurting woman can correct inaccurate impressions or feel affirmed. In this way, the troubled woman can move beyond surface emotions and touch the hidden or suppressed hurt.
If the person is shy, she may toss out subtle invitations to you as the listener: “I’m confused” or “I don’t know what to think.” Say: “How are you confused?” or “What is confusing you?” These statements encourage the person to tell you what she is thinking and feeling.
Expressing an idea requires energy and concentration for the person talking. It requires even more energy and concentration to listen actively. It requires more focus on the person sharing than on your thoughts or advice.
Watch for both verbal and nonverbal messages. For instance, when a woman tells you she is feeling great, does she smile? Is there a light in her eyes? Some examples of nonverbal communication are silence, lethargy, withdrawal, and a lack of zest. Although very outgoing in normal conditions, those who are hurting may withdraw or disappear socially.
Trauma creates a real dilemma for most people. On the one hand, we believe no one can hurt as badly as us or understand the depth of our loss, yet we desperately want reassurance that we aren’t unique and alone. The minister needs to build a common bond with the person’s pain and to offer hope. However, refrain from competing with the person’s feelings. The phrase, “I remember when I…” turns the conversation away from her and toward you. Like comparing surgical scars, it doesn’t lead to a better understanding of the hurting person. Share a related personal experience later when the hurting person feels heard and understood.
What a person says may not tell the whole story. As listener, ask questions to gain insight. For example, a woman waiting to hear biopsy results may say, “I wish the doctor would let me know what my chances are.” She may actually mean, “I am afraid.” Then you can respond by asking, “How do you feel while waiting for the doctor to talk to you?”
Allowing a hurting woman to share is like releasing the steam from a pressure cooker. Release is a natural result of verbalizing emotions held inside. Expression is the most important action—even more important than solutions. Exploring the possibilities for solutions comes later. For now, what she needs most is someone to listen.
This article is an excerpt from Transformed Lives: Taking Women’s Ministry to the Next Level compiled by Chris Adams.