What do most people seek when interacting with you? Some years ago, talk-show host Oprah Winfrey stated that, at the end of the interview, most celebrities wanted to know, “Did you hear me, and did what I say mean anything to you?”1 It is confirmation and validation that we most seek, the need to be heard and understood.
When I was working as a resident chaplain at the veterans’ hospital in Florida, I visited a young female veteran in the mental-health unit. She was of Christian faith but grew frustrated with God because she felt abandoned by her family after her diagnosis. I prepared a spiritual prescription of joy, comfort, and the usual biblical texts dealing with frustration, with Job serving as the model protagonist. It would be, in my mind, the perfect visit! However, things did not go as planned. As I entered the room, she began to lash out, saying that she was frustrated with God and did not want prayer from anyone right then. I chose to listen and stepped into her world. No Bible texts or special mantras were shared at that moment, but a connection was formed by listening to the confirming voice of the Holy Spirit. As our time together drew to a close, I asked her whether she would like prayer, and she said yes. I asked her to do the honors and pray. She was shocked. “You want me to pray? You are the chaplain here!” Then she smiled and prayed whatever was on her heart.
You can provide confirmation and validation even to people you barely know. I want to share two ways, among many, to minister effectively to those we have just met in life:
1. Practice reflective listening. Everyone you encounter is a ministry opportunity! Ask open-ended questions that focus on the person, not on yourself. And then listen without distraction—no fidgeting, looking other places, or glancing at your phone or watch. It is said that we were given two ears and one mouth for a reason. “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19, NKJV).
2. Confirm and affirm.Allow the person to express his or her authentic feelings, hopes, frustrations, and wishes. Confirm by paraphrasing back to the person what she or he is saying. Then affirm and “esteem” them in the direction that they are trying to go in their life.
In our ministry lives, the confirmation and affirmation of the Holy Spirit are all that we need to continue ministering to whatever vineyard God places us in. Our ministry plans or mission may not be supported by all, but God has already equipped us to participate with Him in meeting a person’s greatest need by giving us a listening ear.
- Jeff Haden, “Oprah Winfrey Says Answering 1 Question Lets You Give Anyone You Meet the Most Important Gift of All,” Inc., April 10, 2019, inc.com/jeff-haden/oprah-winfrey-says-answering-1-question-lets-you-give-anyone-you-meet-most-important-gift-of-all.html.