We all have a story, especially our clients. Listening to their story helps us see, hear, feel and understand how they have come to be in a small counseling room at one of the most critical junctures of their lives.
Our lives are made up of many stories. A key ingredient in interacting with people in crisis is to draw out a story that is hard to tell due to the circumstances or feelings surrounding a particular crisis story. People love to tell the "good" stories but are reluctant to tell the more difficult or painful or guilt-ridden stories. As listeners we often move too quickly to the issues and solutions before hearing the story. We listen to the details of the story but not the feelings contained in the telling of the story.
Donald Miller's book A Million Miles in A Thousand Years (2009) is about story and choosing to live in a better story. I would encourage you to read the book. It helped me understand the power of story in our lives and I was challenged to call myself and others to live in a better story. But first we need to hear their current story and not just assume we know what the better story is for someone else.
Here is a quote from the book that I have been pondering for some time.
"We were designed to live through something rather than to attain something, and the thing we were meant to live through was designed to change us." (Pg. 70)
I see that our clients are in the midst of something that was designed to change them and we can play a small part in how the story and the acceptance and resolution of that change plays out. Our ability to give clients the time, space and encouragement to tell their story is key in our ability to respond with kindness, compassion and wisdom. I believe that it is in the listening and drawing out of our clients' stories that we have the opportunity to be HUGE.
Humility is the quality that helps people feel safe enough to tell their story. Humility knows that there but for the grace of God go I. Humility always has something to learn from the other before speaking into their life. Humility respects the journey we all are on.
Unconditional Love is the quality that makes people want to tell you their story because the listener is totally present to the other without judgment or condemnation. Extravagant love relentlessly, gently pursues the other in order to first understand then be understood.
Genuineness is the quality that helps people tell the whole story, even the difficult and embarrassing parts. Because genuineness begets genuineness. Who would you rather tell your story of brokenness and loss to? Someone who listens with compassion and is genuinely moved by your story or one who is listening for everything you did wrong so they can tell you how to get "back on track?"
Empathy is the quality that gives people the time to tell their story. Empathy is patience that waits for a person to tell their story their way. Empathy allows silence and struggle and tears as the story is being told. Empathy listens with the eyes and the heart as well as the ears.
Jesus' interaction with people in scripture are the stories I go back to again and again. More and more I am touched and awed and inspired by the wisdom with which he speaks. I desire that wisdom in my dealing with people. The more I read and study the more I am convinced that his wisdom comes, not only through his connection with his Father, but through how he sees and is moved by the people he encounters. Jesus is the perfect example of a HUGE listener and the results in people's lives are nothing less than redemptive, holy and healing. We would do well to go and do likewise.