So, embarrassing story … I’m at Bible study, and the leader is explaining that when we share our prayer requests at the end of the evening, it’s not a time to give advice.
“Women love to jump in and try to help each other,” she explains, “but let’s just pray for each other.”
Right, I’m thinking. Got it.
Yet an hour later, after we’ve prayed, I lean over to the woman who had shared a health concern and ask if she’s heard of this one nutritional supplement I’ve had some success with.
Oops! Apparently, I couldn’t just leave it at prayer.
Timing isn’t my only issue when it comes to dishing out advice.
Here’s the problem: I think I can fix things because I know stuff.
I mean, I’ve been around for a few years. I’ve collected some valuable information.
Also, I’m pretty spiritual and all, what with having read the Bible a few times and listened to lots of sermons. Plus, I’ve read tons of self-help and Christian living books.
So it’s not like I have nothing to offer, right?
Probably no one reading this can relate to me.
But just in case you do, here’s what I’ve learned: Two things need to happen before it’s time to give out advice.
1. We should experience empathy — and preferably, have personal experience — about the issue at hand.
For example, if I have never dealt with chronic illness, or same-sex attraction, or long-term debt, then chances are I don’t have much to offer someone who is facing those circumstances.
I may have read books and blogs on the subject, but I cannot speak from a place of shared understanding and feelings.
If I haven’t walked in someone else’s shoes, I haven’t earned the right to give them advice.
On the other hand, it’s true that sometimes God gives us a heart for others who have been through something we haven’t experienced.
For example, I have the privilege of counseling post-abortive women, despite the fact that I’ve never been through abortion.
I don’t know from experience what these women struggle with in their souls. I must exercise great sensitivity and learn from them as we walk through their healing together.
Even if I have faced a particular trial, I still don’t know exactly how another person in similar circumstances feels.
I am not them!
Which leads me to the second point:
2. We must ask permission before speaking into people’s lives.
Are you ever annoyed by people giving advice without asking you? That’s because it’s disrespectful.
Advice given without permission can seem intrusive, arrogant and presumptuous.
I don’t want to be That Lady.
So rather than offering advice, I’m learning to ask a simple question first.
An example: “Wow, that sounds really difficult. Do you mind if I share some ways I’ve learned to deal with this in my own experience?”
If the other person says no, or even looks uncomfortable while saying yes, it’s best to stop there and say, “That’s okay.” This shows respect and lets them have a voice.
It’s good to think twice before we launch into Helper mode. So here are my new checkpoints:
- Do I truly empathize with this person?
- Have I been through the same thing? (If not, I need all the more compassion.)
- Have I asked permission to share my insights?
- Oh, yeah … is it time to pray, rather than advise?
If I can answer these questions well, I might have something to offer after all.
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