The Power of Listening

By Darlene Larson

My girlfriend, Susan, had been a handpicked gift from God to me. We met at church and bonded in a women’s Bible study. 

In our church parking lot after our Monday night Bible study, we jumped into her suburban and chatted. I told Susan I had nothing to offer her as a friend. I was totally spent. 

My life was out of balance and exchange students were living in our home. I taught elementary school and my own children’s needs were all I could handle. Not to mention my secret. She said, “Maybe it’s time for you to receive, Darlene.” I sensed God highlighting that as truth. And receive I did. Our friendship grew by leaps and bounds over those years.

Three years later I sat in Susan’s van on a sunny December afternoon in an Arby’s parking lot. I was weeping. She asked, “Do you think it’s time for you to get to a counselor?” This had been Susan’s third nudge to me, regarding the suggestion to seek out a counselor. This time her comment landed between my ears. It was time!

Within the three years of knowing Susan, I had lost my father and my youngest brother, both to heart attacks that looked like a rerun from a gut-wrenching TV tragedy. But this was real—my family was dying off before my eyes. Both men were physically fit. Each of them had worked full days, returned to their homes, and had heart attacks. One died in his chair watching TV and the other laid himself down on the kitchen floor. They died within one mile of the other. Their deaths created a domino impact in my life. 

After my father’s death, we placed our mother in a care facility. She was facing prescription-induced dementia. When we packed up their home, the reality hit me hard—there is no place like home. 

Next, my brother’s death lanced my heart. That was supposed to have been me in the casket; I had prayed that the Lord would take my life because of the abuse I lived in. This death granted the pools of emotional pain permission to flow. And nothing could stop the release that was hidden in my heart for over two decades of living in abuse.

I called Susan often during those days and asked one thing of her: please listen. I needed a set of safe ears, no correcting or suggestions—just listening ears. She delivered. And I sought counseling. Two wise male therapists who understood narcissism journeyed with me for over five years to unpack, unlearn, and shift to the Truth. The abuse was not about me. 

When we travel through deep waters such as trauma, tragedies, death(s), divorce, cancer, and car accidents, we try to process. We’re created to share and wrestle things out. It’s in our makeup and God hears our cries.  “I waited patiently for the LORD; And He inclined to me, and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1 NASB). 

Listening offers acceptance and affirmation that a person’s story matters. Yet, listening is becoming a lost art. Our world is noisy. We must be intentional to actively listen. It’s hard work, but it’s a must!

Learn to grow in your ability to listen in order to deliver comfort to others.  Remember:

  1. Our job—listen.
  2. No earbuds please.
  3. Cell phones are muted and tucked away.
  4. Our eyes connect.
  5. We remind ourselves we cannot fix his/her problem. 
  6. We actively tune in and lean in.
  7. Questions are okay, but let’s limit them. Grief causes a person to become numb. Processing can take time.
  8. Let them talk. Let them vent; allow them to get the pain and the emotion out. 
  9. They’re offering their heart to us. Don’t repeat their story.
  10. Don’t compare their pain, or even say, “I understand.” We may have traveled through a similar story, but to understand them is to hear their pain. 

Recently, I sensed a nudge to reach out to Susan. I texted: “You’re on my mind? How are you?” 

She texted back, “Can we set up a time to talk?” 

I knew something was up. Later that day I sent this note: “I am open right now; can you talk?” 

“Yes,” she responded. I called. She shared her grief. Her son and daughter-in-law had miscarried—again! I listened and said, “I am so sorry.” It was a simple phrase to offer comfort, for truly I was sorry for her pain.

Question:  What was the result you when you listened to someone’s story of grief, loss, or pain?

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The Early Bird Special for a ticket to the Speak Up Conference on July 14-16, 2021, is available now.  Darlene Larson will present a session titled: “Hone Your Speaking Skills for an Audience of One!” For information, click here.

If you’re in need of partial scholarship assistance, email Bonnie@speakupconference.com for an application.

If you’d like to “Pay It Forward” and give a tax-deductible donation to the scholarship fund, here’s the link

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4 Comments

  1. Terry DeBoer on 2021-04-07 at 3:50 PM

    This is a sensitive and authentic approach to the art of sharing and listening – even about life’s most difficult struggles….

  2. Carol Kent on 2021-04-02 at 1:43 PM

    What an important reminder this is that sometimes the most important part of communicating with people is listening to them. Thank you, Darlene!

    • Darlene Larson on 2021-04-06 at 1:36 PM

      Thanks, Carol. It does take work, but so worth it! Blessings always!

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