We all have encountered a person or situation where we find ourselves being “dumped” with scenarios that we can see so clearly as an outsider. In these situations it is so tempting to tell that person just what “we think” and give advice. Even though in our mind we rationalize that if someone is sharing their problem or stories with us they must want our input; the reality is that is not always the case. We really must begin to sort out truth in these situations. While our intentions may be to help the people around us, a lot of times they do not want our help.
So let’s look at a healthy process for determining if we are at a place to encourage, whether the person wants encouragement, and whether to share in response.
To start off we should all agree on a few points. Everyone is responsible for their own life. If things are going poorly in someone’s life there is almost always a change that they can make to improve things. While every situation first and foremost requires the positive change of prayer and waiting on God; about 98% of the time there is also some sort of action or solution that can be implemented with God’s direction. It may be the smallest of changes that we don’t even think would matter like our attitude, or it may be a larger lifestyle change that needs to be conquered in bits.
I have an example of this from my own life and relational experiences. A lot of people tend to share their health problems with me and give me so many reasons why they are in poor health. No matter what solutions or suggestions I try to provide I am rejected as if I am attacking. Many times people are defensive because they are looking for reasons to justify their behavior rather than take responsibility for it. Now let’s be honest, if someone with one leg, diabetes, high blood pressure, and thyroid problems can find ways to be active and exercise and control her health than almost anyone can! I’m not saying there aren’t situations where things really can be out of a person’s control to fix. I’m also not talking about situations where it is important to vent as a processing tool. I am talking about the situations in our lives where we encounter people in our daily walk that have the power to make changes and simply refuse to take responsibility even in the smallest way.
So here I am, not wishing to hear another tirade which will only result in me being told “you just don’t understand!” I feel angry inside that the person sharing with me doesn’t seem to consider any solutions but simply wants to wallow in pity. I may feel so overwhelmed and tired from my own day and life complications that I really cannot take on any more at this point.
And we all have this happen to us from time to time. It may not be about someone’s health but it may be about an abusive situation with a boyfriend or spouse. It may be about someone’s family or friends. It may be about a financial situation or a work situation. One way or another we are presented with a scenario of codependency where we are being asked to jump in as a rescuer to sympathize with a person who sees themselves as a victim.
“Where am I in this? Am I at a place I can handle this?”
The first tool to be offered in any such situation is to get in touch with you. Ask yourself, “Where am I in this? Am I at a place where I want to and feel like I can listen without having my ‘boat rocked’”? This is something that was taught to me by Fern at Discovering MErcy. Before we can relate to or encourage others we have to be in a place where we have a full account ourselves. We must receive (from God, our families, friends, etc.) in order to give.
If the answer above is “No, this story is too ‘close to home’ or ‘rocks my internal boat’ to hear” it is appropriate to share that with the person that is complaining. It is acceptable to say something in response to the effect of, “Wow, I’m really sorry you are having a hard time right now but with all the things I am dealing with I don’t really have the capacity to take on more negativity. I really hope you come up with a solution.” Maybe you can even offer to pray with them or for them as well. This does not make us selfish people for not being able to deal with someone from a pure heart. It makes us honest. It simply takes us out of the codependent triangle.
When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet in John 13 he did not do this from an empty place. Verse 1 states:” Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Jesus knew his purpose and he was willing to stick to it. He had already worked through his own emotions and accepted his purpose by receiving this information from His Father in Heaven. He then got up and filled the pitcher to wash the feet of his disciples. Friends, if we are going to pour out of ourselves any sort of cleansing and blessing onto others we first must be filled! It is ok to be in a place where you are not filled and not capable to handle the dirt from others. It is ok to know that your purpose and calling is not to rescue that person! That is what Jesus is for! Jesus is enough to cleanse you and cleanse whoever is approaching you. Only move in the circles you are called.
If we cannot build relationship with the people around us and encourage them from a pure heart then we shouldn’t be in the conversation. It is that simple. There are countless conversations that I have stayed in when I have not wanted to and then walked away angry at myself, empty and dejected, and feeling like “if they have problems they should see mine!” This isn’t healthy for me or for the person I was speaking with, it is bad for relationships! So don’t let it get to this point! In all honesty, the person you are speaking with probably will be angry but the reality is you do not have responsibility for their feelings. Their anger is directed at their needs not being met, not at you. Be polite, offer to pray, and let them go to God with what they perceived as rejection.
“Does this person have the capacity to handle my advice?”
If you do feel you are at a place where you can handle being an encouragement to the person you are speaking with and not have it be taxing on you emotionally the next step would be to ask yourself, “If I share with this person, does he/she have the capacity to handle what I am to share back?” A lot of times people share things with us to reassure themselves or to rationalize their own choices. As part of the codependent triangle even more people share with us to receive pity for their victim stance or as a way to justify poor lifestyle choices. If their intent in sharing is not from a place where they genuinely want change then it simply isn’t worth the drama of trying to help. It is in this place that we decide that the timing may not be right and we will choose to love them right where they are right now without trying to fix things for them. This brings us back to being polite and ending the conversation, offering to pray, and let them go to God for their needs.
“Do they even want me to share?”
Some people share because they generally do want to find a solution and need a sounding board. Before sharing it is always appropriate to ask the person you are communicating with, “Do you want me to simply listen or are you welcoming feedback?” This puts them in a position to allow you to share with them in a nonjudgmental way about their situation. Talking about our problems, I believe, is a way to help us to process them and effectively move forward. It is important to listen and be listened to! They may or may not receive what you have to say but that is between them and God. It is important to listen to others when we are at a place where we can do that.
Being able to separate the people that we can’t encourage, the people that don’t want our encouragement, and the people that do want encouragement is a very real way to deal with life and keep the drama away!
When I was first taught this process and started to work through it I remember balking at the idea of sifting through every situation that arises! In my mind I felt that all Christians were supposed to set a standard and teach those around us the right way. We are always called to encourage, are we not?
But to simply smile and encourage on the outside when inside we are angry, at our capacity, exhausted, or even having our encouragement being misconstrued is really only dissociating from real life! We have to be in tune with ourselves, true to ourselves, and operate from a place of peace inside ourselves first and foremost!
This process and tool is one that will help you in countless relationships! If you are going to be around someone and you know what to expect it helps to spend a few minutes beforehand in prayer to align yourself with God’s will and His intentions. As you understand the process you will also begin to appreciate and develop it as second nature. I believe we are taught wrongly to “set ourselves aside” and help others no matter the cost.
I do believe that loving others requires sacrifice but we MUST determine what is God’s sacrifice verses ours? Encouraging and enabling are two different things! Let us seek healthy ways to love the people around us and impart to them LIFE and not obligation or dead works.