She was hurting. Their marriage was on the rocks. They came to the office to seek some advice. She started talking and began to share her struggles openly. Then it happened. Her husband launched into a series of ideas to get her back on track. It was clear he had thought about her situation a great deal, and his words were not far from the truth. Then she gave this simple response, “Don’t try to fix me.”
It was not the first time I had heard these words from someone. Honestly, I knew exactly where she was coming from in her thinking because I have thought the same thing. There have been more than a couple of times I have wanted to shout, “Don’t try to fix me” at a well-intentioned Christian.
I think most of us can identify with these words and yet we suddenly forget them when someone starts to open their life to us. We immediately slip into a mode that makes us the expert and willing to offer a lecture on how to get their lives on the right track. I know this is especially true for men.
So let me give you a little Christian advice on how to respond the next time someone begins to bare their soul to you.
1. Listen to them. I know this sounds so basic, but listen to them … really listen. Hear what they are saying and try to place yourself inside their emotions. The Bible encourages us to be “quick to listen and slow to speak.” This is always good advice.
2. Let them know they are not alone. If possible, share a story from your own life that makes a connection. Be careful not to become the hero of your story. I firmly believe the best words we can share are about a time that we struggle and possibly failed in a similar situation. Many times, this person is opening up to you because they think you can understand their struggle, show them that you do.
3. Pray with and for them. I am learning to pray with people the moment that they open up to me. I just pause and ask if it is okay to pray with them, and then I go to God. Other times it can be awkward to pray at the moment, so I promise people to pray for them for a week. Then each day I lift them up to God and ask him to help their situation.
4. Offer a connection (If you know one). I frequently ask, “Do you have anyone other than me you could talk to about this?” If I get a negative response, then I ask if could suggest someone. I might say, “I know a lady who is struggling with the same issue, the two of you should meet.” I might tell them of someone who is in a similar situation and then take the time to introduce them on Sunday. I may not be able to help this person, but I hope I can direct them to someone who can.
5. Point them to God. Remind them of God’s grace. Be careful not to do this in a condescending way that implies they are of weak faith for having this problem. Don’t tell them, “God has a plan” in the moment of tragedy. I usually say that “God will get you through this somehow.” I think people need to be reminded that we serve a loving God who cares about us. It is hard to see if the world feels like it is falling apart, but God is good.
My final suggestion is to be quiet. Usually, people know what they should do in their given situation, but it can be a harsh reality. To confront a sin or question, a person we love can be overwhelmingly stressful. So let the person talk it out while they work through it in their own mind. This can be complicated for a guy like me, but I need to be reminded that God is in control and I don’t have to try to fix everything.