I was more exhausted than I ever knew a person could be.
I had endured a very difficult and dangerous pregnancy. We had spent three days in the hospital with our new son when he was just 12 days old. And then there were the three years of endless nights of screaming, and us not knowing why. Many doctors (and thousands of dollars) revealed little and solved less.
We were weary.
We were scared (a baby just shouldn’t cry like that).
And after three years of very little sleep and way too much crying, I was resentful.
I didn’t need more advice.
I didn’t need any more “One Up” stories.
I needed someone to come take this baby for an hour so I could take a nap.
I had been on the receiving end of our culture’s tendency to try to “fix” people’s problems by first pointing out the root cause of the problem (why it’s their fault) — and then handing out advice on how to fix it. Most often the advice isn’t even based in an understanding of the problem because we are so eager to get to the resolution: we skip the listening part.
WHY DO WE DO THAT?
I think it’s because we’ve forgotten how to empathize, and to sit quietly, helplessly, in someone else’s pain.
We’ve forgotten the power of empathy and compassion and are bent on being problem solvers.
Someone comes to us with a struggle and the first thing we want to do is retrace their steps to see where they went wrong and what they need to do to fix it. We don’t even know we’re doing it. I’m guilty of it myself!
But it’s not helping anyone. When a friend shares a difficult situation in her life, she’s not usually asking for advice. She’s just asking for a listening ear, your compassion, and your prayers. She may need you to offer to teach her Sunday school class this week or to visit with her over coffee. She most assuredly doesn’t need you to tell her why her problems are her own fault.
My friend Penny shines in this area. When I’m hurting, her first response is always, “I’m sorry.” And I know she means it. Sometimes we just let that wash over us with no more words. She doesn’t try to fix it, assign blame, or offer the false empathy that starts with “I know…” and ends with a story of how she’s been through something similar only worse.
Sometimes, when it’s appropriate, she offers tangible help. She did come take that baby so I could get a nap or go out to dinner with my husband.
Sometimes, after the listening and the understanding, she may offer some ideas for actions that are within my control and may be helpful.
Always, when encouraging me to make needed changes, she confesses her own struggles in the same area and offers sweet, honest grace.
Sometimes she just says, “I’m sorry.”
Don’t get me wrong here, there is certainly a time and a place for advice or tangible help. Maybe God put you in her path because you are the person who can speak wisdom and advice into her situation. Maybe you can offer a helping hand to ease the burden.
What she needs from you first is for you to listen with the goal of understanding.
In an interview with Michael Hyatt, Glennon Doyle Melton said, “…So we take a risk and tell people our deepest hurts because it hurts worse to not be understood than to not be accepted. But it shouldn’t be that way. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice acceptance in order to be known.”
You may say, “What about when it is indeed her fault?” Maybe there is a lesson to be learned from the situation she’s in. Maybe her actions are solely responsible for her predicament. None of that matters until you have met her need with compassion. No one wants to be told that her problems are her own fault before being shown that you care about what she’s struggling with.
But oh, it’s so hard to just sit quietly in someone else’s pain, with nowhere to send the blame, no way to fix it.
When a mama loses her child in a freak accident, we make hasty and brutal judgements and quickly find a way to blame her.
When a woman is feeling disconnected from her husband we tell her to give him more sex.
When depression ravages a woman’s soul, she is told to have more faith.
It has to stop!
- Men: I beg you to stop telling women that we just want to complain about stuff but we don’t want your help.
- Women: Stop telling men that we don’t want them to fix our problems and we just want them to listen. Here’s the real deal: Sometimes we don’t need you to fix it, we have it well in hand, we just wanted to share it with you because that’s what women do. When we do need your help we (women) may be open to you (men) “fixing our problems” if you will first listen to the details and nuances of the whole dilemma.
- Maybe that mama could have done something differently. Do you think she doesn’t know that? Do you think your condemnation has any power to produce anything good?
- Maybe that child hit your child for no reason, or because he’s just plain mean. Stop asking, at every turn “How is this your fault?” (Usually stated more like, “What did you do to make him upset?”) Just help him learn to deal with conflict. It doesn’t always take two to tango!
Compassion is “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.”
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
To have any positive affect on the plight of another, we must first meet them with compassion. To have compassion, we must first seek empathy.
I’m asking God to pour into me His compassion, His grace, His peace, so I can meet a friend in need with these beautiful gifts instead of my feeble advice and ill-placed admonition.
I pray that whatever you’re struggling with today that the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
If you were here with me I’d listen to you, hug your neck and say, “I’m sorry.”
The Lord draws near to the broken hearted (Psalm 34:18.) Let’s be the vehicle through which He draws near.