“Yeah I called her up, she gave me a bunch of [grief] about me not listening to her, or something, I don’t know, I wasn’t really paying attention.”
– Harry in Dumb & Dumber
Ever feel like that could be something you’ve said to someone (or that someone has said about you)? Listening really is a big deal. The Lead Small book defines a Small Group Leader as “anyone who chooses to invest in the lives of a few to encourage authentic faith”. A large part of that role lies in the ability to listen well… to give our undivided attention, our warmest eyes and most open ears to those in our small group. This allows us to not only hear what our students are saying, but to help discern what they are not saying as well.
Just last night I had an opportunity to talk with one of my girls about a friendship issue. I spent about ½ hour just listening to what she was struggling with and how the same issue seems to come up on a regular basis. Some of the other girls started to show up so we stopped talking… but during our bible study time this same girl had some great insights to how we can prevent ourselves from being consumed by something by simply focusing on God. As they were leaving, I pulled her aside and told her how wonderful her contribution was and how much I appreciate her insight – and reminded her how what she said relates to her current situation as well. I got a call a little while later asking me to expand on how it relates and I explained that in previous conversations she has said she feels this friendship plays an important role in her walk with Christ but that every time she feels things get “weird”, she stresses and becomes fixated on what is happening. But her own words that night addressed the real issue… she needed to switch her focus from the friendship to God – and then He would direct the path of the friendship. If nothing else, this gave her a sense of relief and allowed her to know that she has wisdom to get past temporary obstacles when she looks at the broader perspective.
So, here’s the point. We must make sure to listen before responding… because sometimes, when we are patient, the student may end up with the right response all on his/her own. Also, listening communicates care. Preparing yourself for listening is the best prep work you can do to be open to what a student has to share. In fact, the better prepared you are, the better you will be able to listen. You do this by learning to just be quiet. And this value comes with practice. The beauty of this practice is, the more you listen to your students, the more they will be willing to listen to you.