The other night I shared my pain with a group of friends. It wasn’t the night I hit the wall, but the same issues led me to a pit the day this group met. I was severely low when I shared.
So, what do you think I got in response to my pain?
Yep, advice and a lecture about how we all suffer. Blah blah blah blah blah.
And when I didn’t respond, the discussion turned away from me to a safer non-emotional discussion. Phew.
Why is it that when a friend shares his or her pain, we (especially we women) feel compelled to give advice? And men, do you feel like running away?
Perhaps we do so because we think somehow it’s our responsibility to free our friend from pain, whether our friends ask for it or not. Our two responses?
Fix or Flee.
Advise or Retreat.
Either “Since I am obligated to fix you, here’s the first thing that comes to mind. Because I don’t know anything else to say, I am giving all I have.”
Or “I am so overwhelmed by your pain that I am totally incapable of helping you, so I think I will just run away.” (often accomplished by turning the conversation to lighter fare)
Here’s my question: who EVER said you were obligated to fix me?
Isn’t that God’s job?
He can do it, but you can’t. So don’t even try.
If I want your advice, then I’ll ask for it (and I didn’t the other night).
By the way, how does unrequested advice strike you when you’re the recpient? Do you sometimes feel demeaned as in “You obviously are too unspiritual or demented to know this, so I must tell you” or “I’m just so mature, you need to hear what I have to say.” (Ask Job how he felt…)
What I want when I am hurting in my pain is to be heard, to feel that I’m not the only one who has ever been where I am at. I want you to ask me questions out of loving curiosity to know me more deeply, to go beneath the surface, maybe to lead me to the spiritual lies beneath the pain.
Not because you purposely set out to do so, not because you have any idea what to do, but because, by your mere desire to know me better, you may uncover something that God can work with: some issue in my life He needs to deal with, some deep-seated puss-filled lie He wants to lance.
I can’t go there on my own. But you can help me.
NOT by giving advice, but by asking me some questions. Not questions that are advice in disguise (like these: “Are you reading your Bible? Do you thank God for your situation?” no, it never crossed my mind to do so… puhleeze), but questions that arise from your love for me, your desire to know my inner self, and your reliance on God.
He’s the fixer. You’re not.
Obviously there are times when advice is warranted — when someone asks for it (although there is merit in not addressing the immediate pain in order to reach deeper issues) or when there’s a crisis which must be addressed immediately (as in telling someone how to get out of an airplane after it ditches in the Hudson).
And one more point, just to show how self-centered I am. Had I been in a different place the other night, the advice I got from one person should have been cause for my rejoicing. My friend was, in fact, simply sharing the advice she had just learned to give herself. Had I been able to take my focus off myself, I might have realized that her advice was evidence of spiritual growth, that she was sharing some incredible lessons that she didn’t grasp herself months ago.
But, I was in pain, and in no mood for advice.
So, my advice on advice?
Don’t give it.
Dear Lord: Help me to take my own advice. Amen.