Thank You for Sharing

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For the past 20 years I have participated in and lead a wide range of various healing groups—women’s groups, mixed groups, 12 step groups, post-abortion groups, abuse survivor groups, and everything in between. They each have had a slightly different ethos or culture or format or material, but they hold one thing in common: safety.

Safety doesn’t mean comfortable. In fact, incredibly uncomfortable is a better descriptor of my experiences in these groups. It hurts to heal. It is awkward to be honest and vulnerable. It is startling to hear real and raw stories week after week. It’s tough to be in the room with a lot of pain.

Safety is about something far bigger than comfort; it is about creating an environment that allows people to share without worrying if someone is going to fix us, correct us, judge us, or scripturize us. I have been in so many Bible studies and church groups over the years where there were not good guidelines for sharing. There’s nothing worse than actually opening up and sharing an honest and real story in our lives and being met with either blank stares or a barrage of responses: “Oh, that happens to me, too” or “Have you tried _________?” or “Have you read _______?” or “Can we pray for you right now?” or “Just remember, Jesus loves you…”

To me, there’s almost nothing worse in a group.

Here’s why: everyone’s responses become about their own anxiety about the pain. The responses, while well-meaning, are about somehow feeling a need to make things better, to ease the tension, to put some kind of bandaid on the wound as quickly as possible.

Trust me, I feel it, too. When someone shares a hard story, I want to swoop in and make it all better in that moment.

But I keep learning an important and hard skill that is practiced in most every 12 step group in the world—the art of listening.

Just listening.

In the safest recovery groups I am involved with, we have a rule in place called “no cross-talk.” This means that when people share, we say, “Thanks for sharing” and move on to the next person.

We don’t jump in and respond. We don’t try to solve their problem or hand them a tissue. We don’t start trying to find a way to make them feel better.

We listen.

We soak in the beauty and power of their words.

And we honor their courage with “Thank you for sharing.”

Let me tell you—it’s so hard to do!

I am a flaming codependent at heart and love, love, love to fix problems, make pain go away, and do whatever I can to provide relief when someone is hurting. I have a yes-I-know-better-but-I-still-think-it belief that if I say the right thing in the right moment, everything will be all better for people.

But I keep learning that usually the best thing I can do is listen.

To hold the space where people can freely share their hearts, their story, their pain, their good, their bad, their dark, their light, their real, their beautiful, their ugly.

To give my attention to their words, not what I think I’m supposed to say afterward.

To hold myself back from interjecting my two cents, my words-of-wisdom, my ___________.

And I also keep learning how healing it is for me when my friends do the same for me. When I blabber on and on about what I am struggling with and they hold that space for me with big ears and dear hearts and closed mouths. When they honor the truth of my words with a simple and kind “Thanks, Kathy, for sharing” when I am done. When they don’t minimize my story by trying to make it about them somehow.

“Thank you for sharing” is a tricky but intentional skill that is central to a life of downward mobility. In the trenches of real life, we will hear so many hard stories. Stories that will compel us to want to find a way to make better. Stories that will break our hearts. Stories that will test our faith. Stories that will make us cry. Stories that will fuel our hope.

Stories that deserve to be listened to and honored properly instead of hijacked with our own little twist or advice or solutions or input.

“Thank you for sharing” bugs me in so many ways, but it also teaches me exactly what I need to learn.

To listen.

To listen.

To listen.

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Kathy Escobar
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, an eclectic faith community in North Denver dedicated to those on the margins of life and faith. She blogs regularly about life and faith at kathyescobar.com and is the author of Down We Go--Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus in Action. She lives in Arvada, Colorado with her husband, Jose, and five kids. Her most recent book Faith Shift can be found on Amazon.com
Kathy Escobar

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  • “everyone’s responses become about their own anxiety about the pain.” This is so true. It takes great tenacity to listen, especially to pain. Thank you for your wisdom, Kathy, for helping us to grow more tenacious.

    • thanks, cindy! it is so hard to let the pain just be there and not try to smooth it all over to feel better.

  • I haven’t really thought much about how others respond to my pain and vice versa. But it’s true: “everyone’s responses become about their own anxiety about the pain.”
    What insight you’ve brought here, Kathy. Thank you. I needed this!

  • Sandy Hay

    “I am a flaming codependent at heart and love, love, love to fix problems, make pain go away, and do whatever I can to provide relief when someone is hurting.” I actually laughed out loud when I read this. It took me right to my most recent bible study. I’m forwarding this Kathy. It’s a relief to read your(God’s) words here.

    • i think it is so tricky when we are so used to chiming in…

  • Bev Murrill

    Thank you for sharing, Kathy! (chuckle)

    And I identified with so much of what you said – on both sides – I want to be listened to and not fixed, but I easily go toward fixing the people I listen to… oh wretched woman that I am!

    Once again, such a thought provoking/convicting post.

    • ha ha, i always say that when i comment back, too! 🙂

  • Loved reading this Kathy. I guess because this is one of the most important things I’ve learned from our work in the recovery community over the past 10 years. I have been changed for the better by being in their presence and listening.

    • thanks, debby! you see up close its value (and how hard it can be, too!)

  • Talia_T

    Sadly, “Thank you for sharing” is sometimes used by people who haven’t listened and are simply patronizing you.

    • that can be true, too. no question. that hasn’t been my experience but i know it can be the case. i have never found anything in 12 step/recovery meetings to be patronizing.

  • I’m sharing this post with the women who co-lead a Bible study with me. We need to remember, as leaders (especially, as leaders), that our words carry a lot of weight and when we try to ‘fix’ people’s lives, often they listen to us and not the Holy Spirit.

    • i’d love to hear what that was like!

      • The 7 other women all really appreciated it. It’s been a GREAT reminder to all of us as we lead our small groups (we’re using the 3DM materials, but I just can’t call our groups ‘huddles’…. ;0) One woman was concerned that if she poured out her heart to someone, she would feel pretty devastated if all they said was, “Thanks for sharing,” and then moved on to another topic or person. We processed through that–emphasizing that the point is to listen more and ‘solve’ less. She seemed to embrace that thought. REALLY appreciate you bringing up these topics and giving me a way to initiate conversations with others using your blog posts!!

  • I’m going to use “thank you for sharing.” I think, in my over-eagerness to connect, I tend to take away from others sharing… At a class on cultural competency, we did an exercise on listening without saying anything – no “mhms” or even nodding. It was tough to listen to someone else’s 5-minute story without even interjecting an affirming sound, but afterward, we all reflected that we shared things we wouldn’t have otherwise. Hard to remember to put into practice, though!

    • thank for sharing, annie. oh boy, that no “hmmm’s” or nodding is so hard! i know all about that as cross-talk and that’s so tricky. what a good exercise to practice.

  • Liz

    But actually, sometimes I want a listening friend to do more than listen. I want a response. I need some perspective. I’m reaching a hand up so I can find hands reaching down to help pull me out of the mire.

    • Janice

      I agree with Liz. Sometimes I want more than “thank you for sharing”. I actually want someone to hand me a tissue. Or reach out and touch me, and to try to relate to my story. For someone to authentically say, “I have been there” can be very healing. I lead 2 small groups and am part of another, and I completely agree that often our responses are about our own anxiety. But not always.

      • thanks, janice. i hear you, too! i think it depends on the group and the guidelines and process the group agrees to together..

    • i hear you, liz, no question. i think a listening friend is different than some of these contexts that i’m talking about. and we have places in some of our groups where it’s like “ask for what you need–if you need input, ask for it” so we can get what we really need. it’s the unsolicited stuff that is tough and often shuts me down. i really love the nonviolent communication stuff for communicating (even though i so often forget to practice it, ha ha) because it’s about sharing feelings & needs & sometimes requests. i know sometimes i don’t even know what a request might be, but when i share my feelings and the needs underneath it, good friends can help me process in all kinds of ways.

  • Tamara Hilt

    This is a great, when it comes to pain, i want to try to fix the problem but lately even through it painful i have had to listen and try not to fix, when i’m in pain i try to stuff my feelings inside, I hate to see people that i care about be in so much pain that i want to fix it for them instead of totally listening. It is good as a leader a friend to take time to listen due to the fact that people experience the same feelings but cope with those feelings in different ways and what each of us learn from each other is by the art of learning to listen even through it’s hard and we as caring, having a big heart want to fix the pain.

    • thank you so much for sharing, tamara! keep these blog comments coming 🙂 i love your thoughts and honest perspectives.

  • ThatOne

    Thank you so much, I’ll be coming back to this and re-reading multiple times.

    • i always appreciate you taking time to comment.

  • I’m with you all the way in all directions. Sigh. I was just at the women’s retreat from my former church…and had a long talk with one of my friends there who gets that the church has forgotten how to sit in silence with those who are broken — without saying trite things or trying to make them “feel” better. It. Is. So. Hard. Sigh. I am so guilty of the “cross-talk” strategy. Ugh. Love you and thank you for sharing, sister.

    • i hate the no cross-talk rule in general, ha ha. but it is so helpful to practice in certain contexts!

  • HBurns

    This…’To give my attention to their words, not what I think I’m supposed to say afterward.” Thanks for your wisdom Kathy. So helpful xo

    • thanks, helen. it really is freeing when i don’t have to wonder about what i’m supposed to say afterward!

  • pastordt

    This is perfection, right here. Thanks so much, Kathy. Even after training and practice in offering spiritual direction, I constantly have to move my own crap over to one side of my mind and really, REALLY listen — without offering advice or fix-it suggestions. I get the comments posted below about touch – but touch is WAY different than, “Have you tried _____?” Saying ‘thank you,’ or ‘I’m so sorry for your pain’ — these are kindness itself. It’s one of my favorite things about the 12-step programs. Some of those meetings feel more like church than church, you know?

    • we are meant to know each other 🙂 yes, touch and safe connection is soooo much different than those fix-y responses that are far too common. yep, i am very glad to be part of a church where this is built into our culture. we process a lot back and forth, too, in certain contexts, but on the whole there’s just not a lot of fixing and advice giving and it’s really lovely (and sometimes hard)

  • cjdeboer

    This gives me much food for thought, Kathy. I know that for me personally, “thanks for sharing” (and moving on) would not go down well. I’m looking for connection when I share and if someone moves on I feel that connection hasn’t been made and my feelings haven’t been validated. The difficulty here is that we all have different needs so I think it’s a great thing to discuss within a group before people do share. Great post!

    • what i like is that we all need different things and can find ways to engage that work for us for our uniqueness…

  • And I love that when I have been so listened to…I move from wanting to be listened to, to asking for help…because I have been so listened to…

    • that is so true. it helps us transition, doesn’t it, instead of shut us down.

  • Listening. Such an underrated skill to acquire. And so powerful when done well. Thanks for sharing this, good reminder!!

  • Ashley Tolins Larkin

    What blessed timing this post was for me, Kathy. I will be facilitating a small group in a healing ministry beginning Monday. Sitting here this morning, feeling afraid and inadequate, though I’ve done this before, because I know the pain and need will be so great, and we will just need to sit in it together. Thank you for the strong yet gentle reminder from one recovering codependent to another — to give the gift of my ears, presence and heart instead, remembering each of these women is held by One far greater than I. When I respectfully hold space, I point to God’s
    care and healing, which at the deepest levels is what they truly need. Bless
    you in all the ways you abide with others
    In painful places

    • thanks, ashley, and may all kinds of healing and hope enter into the group over the upcoming weeks…

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