Looking at the screen, I read three words. “I give up.”
I paused and clicked on the comments.
There were three.
“Hang in there!”
“Praying for you!”
The last one read, “Hugs” with a cute smiley face emoji with hands.
My internal wrestling began. Was it worth it to say anything? Was this person just wanting attention? What can I offer that would be of any comfort or help?
Clearly, as well-intended and sincere as they are, the platitudes that were dished out weren’t going to help this person’s situation or their heart.
This is a scenario that plays over and over in the social media realm and also in the real world as we interact with people. We hear somebody’s hurt, is doubting, or struggling with something and we have very little to offer. So, we end up giving our friend a verbal pat on the back. “It will all be ok,” we say, as their hearts are bleeding.
However, our wounded hearts require more than verbal Band-Aids. We need the gospel. This is the best news!
As His disciples, Jesus is calling us to be agents of restoration in a broken world with broken people. In the way we have been comforted, we can comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:4). In the way that we have received grace and healing from Jesus, we can bring His grace and healing to those around us, inside the church and outside the church (James 5:16).
When we have a desire to be agents of restoration, it can be easy to misinterpret what others say and give them the wrong medicine for their hearts.
When my Facebook friend said “I give up!” maybe she was referring to putting together an IKEA project, maybe she was giving up on a weight loss program, a job, or a relationship.
This plays out in our day-to-day conversations as well.
When a friend says that their marriage is in a rough spot, it’s easy to assume they just had a small argument the night before. But maybe what they mean is that they are on the brink of divorce, or maybe they have been separated for a while and she is looking for hope.
How can we offer more than cliché remarks to our hurting family, friends, and neighbors?
1. DON’T ASSUME YOU KNOW
From his book Instruments In The Redeemer’s Hands, Paul David Tripp warns us of the dangers of assuming knowledge about a person:
“When you assume, you do not ask. If you do not ask, you open yourself up to a world of invalid conclusions and misunderstandings. You may try to be God’s instrument but miss the mark because you are putting two and two together and getting five––and you don’t even know it. Thanks to your assumptions, the person you think you are helping may exist only in your mind.”Paul David Tripp, Instruments In The Redeemer’s Hands
Making assumptions while reading or listening puts blinders on our eyes and causes us to unintentionally make conclusions that are wrong, making it difficult to bring the good news to a person’s situation.
I have been on the receiving and giving ends of assumptive listening. We end up feeling misunderstood, unheard, and unloved.
2. KNOW THEIR DEFINITIONS
Ask for a person’s definitions of terms. “When you said this…what did you mean? I don’t want to put my definitions on your words and end up being mistaken or hearing you wrong… can you explain that?”
This simple question not only puts you in the position of being a humble learner, but it also enables you and your friend to speak the same language, eradicating simple misconceptions.
3. GET EXAMPLES
Our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are usually attached to a story. If a woman were to share “I just hate that I don’t have a voice in my job!” This mindset didn’t just happen, it is likely that this belief is grounded in their experience. And so, to gain a deeper understanding we should try to get examples.
Ask, “I hear you saying this…can you give me an example from your life?” Then pay attention to how what they are talking about played out. We gain a glimpse into their life and a clearer picture forms as their story unfolds. We get to see and hear correctly. It also gives this person an opportunity to show you who they really are––because you have shown them that you want to know their real selves.
Then, if it is appropriate, you can ask why they responded the way they did in these particular instances. This gives you deeper insight into who they are and what informs their decisions.
As we dialogue with people back and forth, we may have to do this series of questioning over and over, but ultimately we are gaining understanding into who this person is––they are being seen, heard, known, and loved.
4. GIVE THEM JESUS.
Only after we have loved and known a person can we speak the truth. Generally, the gospel is about God restoring humanity. We all experience the fall. We can all experience redemption through Jesus. And God is wanting all people who follow Jesus to be His agents of restoration. Restored marriages, friendships, familial relationships, and souls.
Rather than giving a blanketed version of the gospel to everyone, when we listen and seek to understand without assumptions, we get the opportunity to personalize the restorative work of Jesus. We offer healing and hope to a person who feels understood, known, and loved.
For the woman who believes she has no voice at her job and therefore feels no worth, Jesus died because He thought she was worth it. She can serve Him instead of her boss or her job.
For the man who can’t quite get a grip on his anger because his expectations continually go unmet, Jesus understands and died for that anger. He no longer has to be tied up in shame over it.
We have all fallen short of his glory, and yet he responded by laying down his life so that we could have the Holy Spirit, and learn to have His patience.
Our restorative work is to offer the truth in the face of the lies we believe. Jesus is the best medicine for all of our ailments!
This can be very hard work. It isn’t fast and it takes more patience than we have––hence why we need the Holy Spirit. In order to read and see well, we need to be humble enough not to assume and to intentionally ask good questions. Seek to understand and know. Then, and only then can we offer people the good news of Jesus and the hope of redemption and restoration.