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Holding Space: When Listening Leads to Healing

Holding Space: When Listening Leads to Healing

A number of years ago, I had the privilege of walking closely with one of my best friends during the final months of her marriage. It was heartbreaking to watch her dreams for their life together be blown apart by his verbal and physical abuse, yet it was an honor to witness her courage, resilience and determination.

During the months before they split for good, many people in her life pleaded with her to leave him. They were understandably horrified by the ways he treated her, yet she was not quite done fighting for her marriage and started to resent the voices pushing her to make a decision before she was ready. Although my nature is generally to try to fix problems and offer advice as well, in this case I sensed advice was not what she needed from me. Instead, in a moment of uncharacteristic clarity and self-control, I chose to simply bear witness and be with her. I (mostly) avoided giving advice or offering opinions, in spite of what seemed the obvious solution.

I simply listened.

I told her I believed in her and knew she would ultimately make the best decision for her life. I told her she was brave and I loved her. I told her I was praying for her every day and offered to pray with her at any time. I told her she was welcome in my home whenever she needed a safe place to be.

I held space for her to listen to God and become her best self, in her own time and at her own pace.

Blogger and coach Heather Plett defines holding space in this way:

“Holding space means we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgment and control.”

I tell the story above as an example the kind of holding space to which I aspire. Even in a situation where I had some clarity about what was needed, I held space for my friend, though at times sloppily and imperfectly. She was hurting, and I wanted to make her better. In hundreds of other circumstances, I have wanted to fix my loved one in pain and struggled against the urge to move them in the direction I believed would make things better—a direction in which they weren’t yet ready to go or a path different than the one that ultimately proved right for them.

When we rush the process and assume we know what is best for our friend or family member, we unwittingly tell them not to trust their own wisdom, intuition and connection to God and we run the risk of making them feel incompetent. For those of us who are parents, finding this balance between offering guidance and holding space with our children as they get older is particularly challenging and one I am personally still trying to figure out.

The concept of holding space has been on my mind because I have recently discovered one person in my life to whom I have a particularly difficult time offering this gift.

Myself.

While I understand the beauty and value of holding space for my loved ones, even when I am not very good at it, I find I often push myself to resolution and solutions too soon.

Transformation, growth, waiting, listening and healing sometimes feel like standing still and I get restless. I want to do something, take action or make a change. Judgment and control take hold, and I force the process when wisdom might look more like being still and listening.

Anybody else?

Because I am currently going through a season of transition, I remember growth and transformation take time and the journey is just as important as the destination. The ways I hold space for myself look remarkably like the ways I hold space for a loved one:

  • Showing up
  • Listening
  • Noticing
  • Being curious
  • Being patient and gentle
  • Withholding judgment
  • Focusing on process, not outcomes
  • Embracing progress, not perfection
  • Trusting God to be present and in control
  • Believing in miracles

Holding space is a gift we all can give. To others, to our self, perhaps even to our broken world.

Originally published on Grace Notes.

About Kelly Johnson

Kelly Johnson is an author, speaker, and life coach with a passion for helping people live lives of courage, compassion and connection. She is the author of “Being Brave: A 40 Day Journey to the Life God Dreams for You. She leads a weekly Bible study at The Lamb Center, a day shelter for homeless and poor individual, where she also serves on the Board of Directors. She and her husband, Steve, are the proud parents of two young adult daughters, Alexandra and Brooke.

One comment

  1. Nice blog, Kelly!

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