Three Keys to “Being There”

People - General 194All our differences aside, there is one great equalizer among us – we all make some pretty lousy decisions once in a while. The nature and gravity of those decisions vary, of course, but the act of making poor choices is pretty much universal.

And subsequently there are times when we have to face up to our choices and the consequences.

That this is a universal phenomenon means we see it from both sides as we travel through life.  There are times when I must face my choices and consequences, and times when someone else in my life is facing their choices and consequences.

Particularly for those of us who have been there, we often find ourselves driven to be present for the next person.  It’s something I refer to as ‘paying grace forward,’ and I think it’s a natural response/drive (Jesus Himself talked about this principle in Luke 7 while He was hanging out at Simon the Pharisee’s house).

So how do we encourage someone going through a rough patch?

Really being there for someone is more than just showing up, isn’t it?

Well, actually, it does kind of boil down to simply that.  Kind of.

Often we think we need to have some profound advice or witty contribution. When we don’t have something wondrous to say, we feel like we’re a huge let-down. The truth is: just being there is comfort enough.

But of course, there are moments when having something to say is important also. It’s about balance.

Based on my own experiences on both sides of this coin, I think there are three things to keep in mind. I’ve seen (and felt the effects of) positive and negative applications of these principles. And I think all three of them are key to helping us find what to say and what not to say.

Don’t judge.  I know that one sounds obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. Sometimes it’s hard to resist that knee-jerk reaction of saying “What in the world were you thinking?!?” Or to make sure they understand all the consequences of their actions.

But in reality, if they’re grappling with this, they’ve probably already thought about that ad nausea. The last thing they need is someone reinforcing their negative self-talk. What they need is understanding, encouragement, and help developing a plan to get through this and make things right.

Save your judgment and indignation for the ones who are actively and blatantly bringing hurt to others. Don’t kick the wounded.

Don’t assume you know. If you’ve never been there, don’t assume you know what they’re going through. You don’t. Maybe you’ve been in something remotely similar. Maybe your Aunt Sally has been there. Maybe you’ve been associated with numerous people who have been there. It doesn’t matter. None of that makes you qualified to say “I know exactly what you’re going through.”

Even if you have personally been there, don’t assume you know what’s going on inside them. You may have first-hand experience of their pain, but you are not them. One thing I’ve learned from my own journey, and from helping others through theirs, is: we all process differently. A mentor of mine once told me that, and I’ve found it to be consistently true.

That doesn’t mean it’s not helpful to say “I can relate.” Just don’t think you have them all figured out.

Don’t try to solve it. Listen intently, pray fervently, be the shoulder to lean on, help them talk through it, even throw in a few suggestions on what they can do.

But know that coming up with a complete solution is not your purpose.

It can be tough, being there in the right way.  There are judgment calls involved, and you will miss a few. But if you keep love and grace at the forefront you’ll be a good friend and the right kind of supporter.

And they’ll appreciate it.

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Closer Than a Brother

“Now when he [David] had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1).

    The bible holds many testimonials to the value of friendships. 

    In 1 Samuel, as the story of David’s young life unfolds, we find a lasting and deep friendship forming with Jonathan, son of King Saul.  This friendship would prove to be true and binding, as we see by the progression of events in 1 Samuel 20.  David felt free to speak with Jonathan concerning his reservations about Jonathan’s father (v. 1), and even worried that Jonathan was being excluded from Saul’s inner circle because of their friendship (v. 3).  Jonathan in turn reassured his friend of his allegiance (v. 9, 13), agreed to breech the subject with his father (vv. 12-13), incited Saul’s anger and jealousy by the mere question (vv. 30-33), and faithfully returned to give David the not-so-good news (v. 42). 

    That’s a valued friendship.  It is said that most of us have very few friends that close, if any at all.

    However, Proverbs 18:24 talks of a “friend that sticks closer than a brother,” and I think it is very important to have someone in your life that you consider ‘closer than a brother.’  As mentioned in another blog post, you were never intended to face life alone.  There are challenges and struggles and victories and failures that need to be shared in order to be properly dealt with, or celebrated as the case may be.

    Great to say, but how does it happen?  I would propose two personal actions toward that end.

    Invest in friendships.  Proverbs 18:24 begins “A man who has friends must himself be friendly” (NKJV).  Remember the old saying, “If you want to have friends, be a friend”? You probably first heard that in elementary school.  Well it turns out that’s a biblical concept!  Whenever you are first friendly to others, ‘friends’ are naturally attracted to you.

    Prayer.  Especially when we’re talking about someone who we can open up to about our personal struggles, we don’t want to just pick someone out of a lineup.  There are many – maybe even you – who have sworn they will never open up to anyone again because they opened up to the wrong person and it resulted in judgmentalism or gossip, or both.  This is why we need to be discerning about who to open up to.  And a big part of that discernment is prayer.  I firmly believe that if you are earnest in prayer and attentive to His voice, He will lead you to the person who can be that friend and confidant and accountability partner.

    Healing and life-changing transformations come at the hands of a trusted and safe friend.  Do you have a story about how you found that friend who was ‘closer than a brother’ (or sister)?  Leave a comment and tell me about it.