Listening To Cancer Patients

Last night, my church launched a new ministry to help people with the spiritual and emotional effects of dealing with cancer. Our first event was a panel discussion with a few of our members who have suffered the effects of cancer on themselves or their loved ones.

There is a lot to be said about the scourge of cancer and this much-needed ministry to help people through it, but the thing that stood out to me last night had nothing to do with cancer. It had to do with being heard. Lots of people asked questions of the panelists — insightful, honest, piercing questions. But everyone who asked a question also had a story, and most of them prefaced their question with some of their story.

After the event, one cancer survivor told me, “I just want to share my story.”

I don’t think this is a cancer thing; I think it’s a human thing. Perhaps the urge is stronger after a life-threatening event, but all of us — regardless of our health, beliefs, or experiences — want to share our stories. We want someone to listen. We want to be acknowledged.

My friend John is a counselor. He says that everyone has three relational needs: to be heard, understood, and taken seriously.

This, I think, is one of the key advantages of any small group ministry. When people sit in a small circle of friends and share their stories, something magic happens; something eternal. Time after time, people in my ministry have reported that their group really took off after they took the time to listen to one another’s life stories.

The key to this idea — as with so much of human relationships — is to give before we take. Be willing to listen to someone else’s story without skipping to share your own. Listen deeply, empathetically, and patiently. Try to understand their perspective, especially if it’s different than your own. And take them seriously.

What those cancer sufferers were saying last night is what all humanity is saying. Good listening isn’t going to cure cancer, but it might help heal hearts. Whose story can you listen to this week?