Advice on Advice

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.pain

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? flee

fix1Fix 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?

godonthejobIsn’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 lanceto 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.

questionNOT 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 fairplane-hudsonor 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).

its-all-about-meAnd 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 gadvice1rasp 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.


9 thoughts on “Advice on Advice

  1. Hey girl.

    I wrote a blog on this very thing. I agree so wholeheartedly that I can barely type.


    P.S. I know this is a late comment, but for a while the RSS wasn’t working on my end. Just got it fixed!

  2. Hey,

    Hope my remarks on that word-study I did fell not into the something-that-fell-from-the-horse’s-offspring category. I just thought the Hebrew words for broken, reed, smoldering, wick, bring forth, justice, and truth were enlightening in the context of the verse, and had only just read them up. I intended to cast no aspersion.


  3. Even when we have great relationships, advice isn’t always the best thing we can give (in my opinion).

    Sometimes advice leads us to new and improved ways to sin and doesn’t lead to deep heart change. We might turn from what outwardly appears to be a grevious sin to what outwardly appears to be righteous living, yet the latter might still be fueled by a desire to stay in control, to make life work, not by a changed heart that yields to God in some new way.

    Advice tells us what to do. Observations and questions may reveal the deeper issues which result in true repentance.

    Again, I am not saying advice doesn’t have a place…

  4. Excellent post. And good thoughts. To me, I think the issue is what kind of relationship do you have with someone?

    When I turn to a friend and tell them my problems, I’m looking for some level of advice. I want them to speak “truth” into my life. But I’ve spent years building those relationships. I know who will give me advice meant to heal me, and those are people who I turn to. No. Those are people that I NEED.

    So what do I do when someone talks to me about their problems? I ask myself, “do they just want to vent? Or are they looking for help?” The answer to that question determines how I respond.

  5. Thanks for reading and for your comments.

    Normally, I just get a bit annoyed at advice, but it was getting on my last nerve that night and provided an opportunity to expound on a topic here that I thought would be thought-provoking.

    The funny thing is that I LEAD this group and normally am the person listening and asking and putting the other members’ problems before mine. But during that particular meeting, I just didn’t have it in me. It’s also in our group covenant not to give advice, but we hadn’t had a covenant-renewal ceremony (ha!) for a while.

    Last note: to Marcy’s point. I’ll liberally steal from Larry Crabb’s ministry in a future blog (of course giving appropriate credit) about the kinds of questions one might ask a friend in pain. It’s at his course in Spiritual Direction that I first understood some of what I wrote in this post and how questions (or silence!) are so much more appropriate than advice.

  6. I’m terrible at this. I don’t know what questions to ask, and of course all sorts of genius advice comes to mind… so I tend to be pretty quiet. Working on it…

  7. I agree with you… Christians seem notorious for giving unsolicited advice. I can’t stand it. Nothing wrong if you asked for it, or wanted, but a lot people lack the discernment, or the compassion to know the difference.

    Even when you’re not in pain, you might be just sharing something general or random, people still love to give advice.

    Hang in there… and try not to harden your heart to those that are around you (there, I just did it, didn’t I? 😉 )…

    Bless you on your journey,


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