The power of listening

How to Help Someone Through a Trial

house Annie Hutchison Jun 4, 2024

Sometimes, the most impactful thing you can do for another person is to give them back their voice and listen to them share their experiences. The past several months have been a roller-coaster of trials and emotions for me, and sometimes it's easier to show up to church, slap a fake smile on my face, and say “I’m fine” when friends ask “How ya doing?”

Other times, when I tried to tell them the truth, to share my grief, anger, or pain, I could see that they felt awkward and I watched as they quickly escaped the conversation. Those moments felt like rejection: they felt like shame.

I don’t think we mean to shame others, but so often our own lack of knowing how to respond, how to witness the suffering of others, leads us to trying to escape from them as quickly as possible, and I think inadvertently sends the message “Be fine, or I don’t want anything to do with you.”

So what do you do when someone you know shows up not fine? How can you help someone even if you don’t feel capable of solving their problems in any sense?

Let them speak.

I can tell you from being on both sides of these awkward, messy, or difficult conversations that often, the other person doesn’t want or need you to “fix them.” What they need is to have their story heard and to know that you care about their well-being and won’t stop loving them even after they share.

In Psychology, they are learning that sharing your experiences with a safe listener can actually lead to emotional healing. I love how Chaplain Dr. Eva Bleeker puts it. She says, “When the redeemed tell their stories, experiences of suffering can transform into redemptive action.”

Yesterday I was reminded of this lesson by a phone call from a friend. See, my family is currently walking through a trial that is bigger than our ability to solve, and it feels painful and scary at times. This friend demonstrated her love and tender care by asking me how I was doing and a few simple questions like, “What do you need to feel cared for?” and “How can I support you?”

These questions weren’t profound, it's actually what she did next that had the greatest impact on my heart. She let the silence stretch as I grappled for words and fought back tears. She didn’t break in with ideas or suggestions of her own, she just waited for me to find my voice and speak.

This friend showed up, asked me to speak, and gave me the space I needed to respond. She didn’t end my trial, or solve my problems. Still, today I breathe a little deeper and feel a sense of hope and calm because she was willing to enter into my mess and listen to me. She didn’t compare pains, she didn’t tell me how I should feel differently, she didn’t make me feel less than, or try to stroke my ego by flattery, she just showed up and listened.

Sometimes, the greatest gift you can offer another human being is to show up and listen to them with genuine love. Witnessing their pain is a gift like no other and so often has a much deeper and more profound impact than we give it credit for.

Today, my prayer is that I will remember to be the sort of friend who can show up and listen with grace and I pray that God helps you too.

How to Help Someone Through a Trial

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