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Entries in Listening (4)


An Exercise in Empathizing

In describing Kaley Rhea's writing, I use words like quirky, insightful and real. Most of all real! She speaks with authenticity, but also authority. In this Relationship UPGRADE, she calls us to biblical empathy—the art of listening well and responding with compassion.

"You’ve probably been here." Kaley says. "You’re sharing a personal struggle, trauma, crisis, or even triumph with someone, and that person looks at you and responds in that moment by saying the Worst Possible Thing™."

The hard thing about this UPGRADE blog is I (Dawn) read each one first, and OUCH! The Lord got my number. I want to be a woman of wisdom, but that doesn't mean I have to jump in and give my two cents.

Kaley continues . . .

It’s so frustrating! Hurtful! It makes me mad!

Like, why would you even say that?

Can’t you step outside yourself for two seconds, understand my feelings, and treat me like I’m a valid human being? ::pant, pant::

You know what’s even more heartbreaking though?

The realization that I can be that person.

  • The insensitive one.
  • The clueless one.
  • The selfish one.
  • The one who doesn’t know what to say, and so—in her haste to say something—hears her own voice release the shameful and dreaded Worst Possible Thing™.

It’s so easy to point the finger at someone else’s lack of empathy and overlook my own.

Deceptively easy. Devastatingly easy.

But Jesus says in John 15:12, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

How does Jesus love us? He didn’t stay where He was. He came here. He lived a human life, went through human trials, felt pain and hunger and cold. Probably tasted bad food and got sore feet and annoying splinters and low blood sugar.

He put Himself in our place. Literally.

Yet I have occasions where I—in my ignorance and limited perspective—think myself justified in viewing someone else’s struggle/hurt/heartache/victory/passion within my own context and judging, dismissing or “solving” it.

Or sometimes I’m going about my day and I’m so focused on my circumstances, goals, to-do lists, whatevers that I forget that the people around me aren’t obstacles to get around. Or tools to be used to accomplish my stuff.

They’re whole people. Created by and loved of God.

If I brush off or shut down someone who’s come to share a trial or a triumph, I have at the very least missed out. More probably, I’ve sinned.

Galatians 6:2 reads, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

How, though? How can I do this?

Consider the following:


That’s it. That’s my whole bulleted list.

That’s all I’ve got because, for me, that’s where I have to start. And it can be a difficult place to start.

Too many times, even when I’m listening to a friend or a co-worker or a family member or even a stranger, I listen wrong.

I’m less listening and more waiting for MY TURN to speak.

  • I listen less for understanding their experience and more for making my own experience understood.
  • I listen less to communicate love and more to “fix” them with my brilliant advice.
  • I listen less for their sake and more for my own.

That isn’t empathizing.

That isn’t putting myself in their place, bearing their burden, feeling what they feel.

But wait! I tell myself. What about when they’re wrong? I don’t have to listen when they’re wrong, right? Surely?

Except, oh wait.

If I haven’t listened, acknowledged this person is a person, loved of God, dear to my heart, then I’m wrong, too. And anyway, if I haven’t listened to them, what kind of joke would it be to expect them to listen to me?

Like . . . a really not-funny joke.

Good thing there’s Jesus.

I’m reading these verses right now, and you are so invited.

"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:14-16).

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

This is my prayer—is it yours?

Jesus, my sweet Savior,

I need Your strength to help me to be tender. Soften my heart and open my ears. Help me to listen and to love unselfishly, by Your great grace.

Thank You for being the ultimate example of empathy and the perfect, all-knowing Understander. Give me Your very un-me-like ability to delight in the people You’ve made, even when I don’t understand them the way You do. Convict me when I fail to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).

My heart is Yours. Make it more like Yours.


Kaley Rhea is the St. Louis-area, author of the Christian romantic comedy Turtles in the Road (along with mom, bud, and writing partner Rhonda Rhea) and the soon-to-release non-fiction book Messy to Meaningful: Lessons From the Junk Drawer (co-written with Rhonda Rhea and Monica Schmelter)—coming this April.


Christmas Doors — Invitations to Joy

In this Christmas UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson invites us to think about the doors we might open to others this holiday season.

I love to see all the pretty doors decorated at Christmas. They look so welcoming. They invite us to share together in joy.

So many are lonely, stressed, even in crisis during the holidays. We may feel caught up in our own holiday joy, but we can't ignore others who struggle to smile. Those who have no peace. Those who hurt and need encouragement.

I've thought about some of the doors we might open to those people. Here are five doors that I call "Invitations to Joy."


We show empathy and understanding when we learn to listen well.

James tells us to "be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak" (1:19, AMP).

Proverbs 1:5 says, "Let the wise listen and add to their learning." When you listen to people, you encourage them to talk, and that is fertile ground for greater understanding.

As leadership coach Becky Harling wrote in her book How to Listen So People Will Talk, "People feel more loved and valued if we are actively and attentively listening to them."

Empathetic listening is a gift not just for the holidays, but for a lifetime of ministry to those the Lord brings into our lives.


The second part of James 1:19 says, "slow to speak." We must be careful what we say, but we do need to speak up.

Good communication skills can be cultivated when our mouths are full of God's wisdom. Our words are to first be acceptable in His sight (Psalm 19:14). We can then wisely pray for others and minister to them with healing conversations.

Our words must be carefully chosen to encourage others. Speak words that will build up and "give grace" (Ephesians 4:29).

Speak words of affirmation and hope, not negative, critical and destructive words. Focus on what is worthy (Philippians 4:8) to share this Christmas!

3. The Door of SERVICE

Just as Jesus came to serve, he calls us to do the same. In Christ, we are created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10), and that includes serving people.

God notes how we serve and help others (Hebrews 6:10). He praises a servant's heart.

We are to serve with humility in love. We are to use our spiritual gifts, received from the Holy Spirit, to serve others as "faithful stewards of God's grace."

There are so many opportunities to serve during the Christmas season—both in serving individuals and groups.

Serving others "opens a door" to their hearts.

Don't overlook your next-door neighbor's need, a good place to start. You might even be opening a door to sharing the Gospel; but be willing to serve, regardless.

4. The Door of HOSPITALITY

Paul instructs Christ-followers to "share with the Lord's people who are in need" and "practice hospitality".

Hospitality isn't just inviting someone into our homes. It is first a heart attitude, a disposition, of treating others in a warm and generous way.

But it is also a virtue that extends back to Old Testament times. New Testament Christians also depended on hospitality and offered it freely. Jesus and His disciples depended on hopitality as they served in ministry (Matthew 10:9-10).

Hospitality is a kingdom trait. We bring praise to God when we show kindness, especially to the needy and love others selflessly). Hospitality is an important aspect of our walk with God, and not just during the holidays (Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9).

5. The Door of LIFE

We cannot change a person, but we can speak to them about the door of life—and Jesus said He is that door (John 10:7). He is the only door by which a person can enter and receive eternal life (John 10:9; 3:16). As such, the Good Shepherd is the door to the sheepfold.

The Christmas season is an opportune time to share the Gospel. Be creative in how you share. Think of ways that would speak to specific individuals—that would help them see what God was offering when "baby Jesus" came. 

Jesus was a man on a mission. He came to "seek and to save the lost," and He has commissioned us to share this Good News with others (Matthew 28:19-20).

Think about it.

Every Christmas Door is an invitation to joy.

  • The joy of being heard and understood
  • The joy of being encouraged
  • The joy of finding needs met
  • The joy of being welcomed
  • The joy of receiving life

How can you open doors to people this holiday season?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Neely Wang at Lightstock.



How Well Do YOU Listen?

Becky Harling is one of the most practical women I know, often tackling topics women need to hear like "performance" and dealing with our emotional scripts. In this Relationship UPGRADE, she asks us to honestly evaluate our listening skills.  


"I remember well when I asked my teenage daughter, 'Honey, do you think I listen well?' Honestly," Becky says, "I was expecting rave reviews, but what I received was something entirely different"

I (Dawn) think Becky was so brave to ask her teenager for input. But what I admire most is her desire to act on that input!

Becky continues . . .

Mental note to self: Don’t ask your kids what they think unless you’re prepared for the answer!

There was a long pause, and then Bethany said,

“Well… sometimes you listen well… but, you seem distracted a lot, you interrupt me a lot and you dive in with your own story and you give me way too much advice!

"Mom, I just want to feel heard!”


That night in bed, I had a lot to consider and I remember wrestling in prayer.

But finally, after several sleepless hours, I prayed,

“Lord, I want my daughter to feel heard and loved. Help me to change. Show me how to work on my listening skills so that those I loved feel heard.”

Author David Augsburger wrote, “Being heard is so close to being loved that they are almost indistinguishable.”

God created us for relationship with Him and with others. And that means we need to value our relationships by listening attentively.

Relational wisdom from Proverbs teaches us, “Let the wise listen and add to their learning” (Proverbs 1:5).

Jesus Himself warned, “Consider carefully how you listen’” (Luke8:18).

Most of us are busy and stressed out, so how do we consider carefully how we listen and take steps to improve our listening skills?

It’s not as hard as you might think. It will take practice, but there are a few steps you can take right away.


If you take these simple steps you’ll improve your listening skills immediately and those who are dear to you will feel more loved right away!

Simple Steps:

1. Silence Your Inner Fixer.

Have you noticed how tempting it is to try to fix other people’s problems? I’ll give you a secret. People don’t want you to fix their problems. They want you to listen. They want to feel heard and validated that their situation is difficult and challenging.

So next time, you’re tempted, ask a question instead. Which brings me to my second simple step.

2. Learn how to ask questions.

Any great conversationalist knows how to ask great questions. Jesus Himself was the Master question asker“Who do you say I Am?” “What do you want me to do for you?”—and it’s a pretty easy skill to learn.

Before you meet a friend for coffee, think of three questions you’ll ask so that they’re already in your head. Do the same whenever you attend a meeting where you’ll meet someone new.

Think through a few great questions and even write them on an index card. Then look at the card right before you go into your meeting so the questions will be fresh in your mind. Watch and wait for the opportunity to ask a question.

Hey, if you need help in the question-asking department, I’ve got good news for you! I’ve got a great free gift called, How to Get the Conversation Started up on my website. It’s loaded with great questions you can use in any situation!

3. Let Go of Distractions.

Don’t buy into the myth of multi-tasking. It will hurt your relationships.

When you’re with someone, discipline yourself to be fully present to the conversation.

Turn off or silence your cell phone. Shut down your computer and turn off the T.V. and simply listen to the other person. Seek to understand their heart and what’s behind the words they are speaking. 

The one way it’s valuable to multi-task is to pray for wisdom as the other person is talking. Pray that the Holy Spirit will set a guard over your mouth and help you to speak only what’s helpful.

4. Ask.

Finally, ASK.

Dare to ask at least two people you love, “How well do you think I listen?”

However they reply, don’t push back. Simply receive and then take it to the Lord and ask Him to change you!

Which of these simple steps might UPGRADE your listening skills today? Choose one, and "practice" on your family and friends. Who knows ... the Lord might open new doors to better relationships.

Becky Harling. Authentic. Passionate. Funny. Insightful. Becky is a frequent speaker at conferences, retreats, and other venues. She is the author of Rewriting Your Emotional Script, Freedom from Performing, The 30 Day Praise Challenge and The 30 Day Praise Challenge for Parents. Becky is married to Steve Harling and has four adult kids and five grandkids. Visit her website and blog!

Graphic adapted, courtesty of StockSnap at Pixabay.


How to Earn the Right to Share Your Story

Maria Keckler is a natural coach. She offers keen counsel to help build bridges in ministry, leadership and personal relationships—an UPGRADE of great importance!

“Empathy,” Maria says, “is the ability to stand in our audience’s shoes, see through their eyes, think through their perspective, and feel with their hearts.”

Have you ever seen an empathetic person in action? I (Dawn) have. She was selfless and genuinely concerned, fully engaged—heart and mind. She listened until she understood! “What a gift,” I thought.

Maria continues ...

Jesus is empathy personified. God wrapped himself in flesh and walked the earth as a man and can forever say,

I know what it’s like to be you. I know how it feels to be tempted, to lose someone you love, to endure rejection and physical pain.”

And isn’t that why you listen to Jesus—to His story? You know He cares about you because He knows what it’s like to be you.

Empathetic Listening Unlocks the Heart

I’ll never forget a time my husband was facilitating a group listening activity in which participants were asked to pair up. The “listener” was instructed to ask personal questions in order to better understand what his or her communication partner cared deeply about. The “listener” had to be attentive and couldn’t interrupt until the person sharing was completely finished.

Half way through the activity, a woman excused herself and walked out of the room. Later, she shared privately that it was out of character for her to be so emotional—especially in public—but it was the first time in her adult life she felt truly heard.

Empathetic listening is a gift and a choice, but one of the most neglected practices today.

When we are:

  • Listening in order to have a chance to respond ...
  • Listening to quickly insert our own story ... 
  • Listening to find a “sin” we can address with a Bible story ...
  • Listening with contempt ... 

... these forms of listening are NOT empathetic listening and will get in the way when we finally get the chance to share our story.

Earning an Invitation to Share

My friend Diane Szuch earns the right to share her story with women whose joy has been stolen and heart has been broken at the feet of sexual abuse, because she first listens to them with extraordinary empathy—and so can you.

What does empathetic listening look like?

The traditional Chinese symbol for listening gives us the clues to empathetic listening. It contains the characters for ears, eyes, attention (mind), heart, and king. In other words, we are to listen fully engaged as in the presence of the king.

In practical terms…

  1. Be fully present. Put away the phone.
  2. Listen with your eyes. Make eye contact, but don’t be creepy about it. Natural eye contact is not a staring contest.
  3. Listen with your body. Lean in, nod and affirm.
  4. Listen with your heart. Withhold judgment.
  5. Convey empathy. Offer neutral but authentic acknowledgement remarks to indicate you are present. (Really! Wow! Mmm ... Oh my!)
  6. Embrace silence. Silence can be one of the most powerful elements of a conversation, opening doors to vulnerability and intimacy.

There are many times we are ready and eager to share our story, but the right opportunity never seems to come.  But you can turn things around today!

How can listening more—and more empathically—help you build a bridge to the hearts of those God has put in your path? 

Maria Keckler has been coaching married couples (with her husband) for more than 15 years. They’re teaching leaders at Shadow Mountain Community Church. Maria is an executive coach, corporate trainer, and the author of Bridge-Builders: How Superb Communicators Get What They Want in Business and in Life. She invites readers to follow her blog and purchase her book.

Graphic adapted, Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at