A friend of mine recently approached me and asked me to be praying for them. They went on to tell me what they were asking me to pray for specifically. As my friend shared some of the struggles of life they were dealing with, I did the worst thing I could have done…and I bet we’ve all done it…
When someone comes to us with the weight of the world on their shoulders, what is our responsibility? How should we react? How do we help them? These questions have haunted my mind for more than 15 years. When I was in professional ministry work, people often came to me with all manner of problems to talk through. More often than not, I would try to offer advice or counsel. More often than not, I felt very unsure of the advice I offered. I felt very insecure about whether or not I even knew what I was talking about. BUT on several occasions, I felt very sure of what I was saying. Nearly every time that happened, I would look back in hindsight and realize how arrogant and cocky I was being in those moments.
Once again, how do we help people in these situations? I’ll tell you what I’m always inclined to do. In almost every instance, I try to “fix” people. This is to say that I tell them how they should respond or what they should do. I advise them on the best course of action, thought, and/or conversation. Usually, while I’m doing so, they are continuously giving me new information, but I’ll keep cutting them off and “fixing” them more. By the end of the exchange, they often seem exhausted and maybe even more overwhelmed by the whole thing. I walk away feeling good about myself and proud that they came to me for help.
But…what I gave them was not what they asked for…
Back to my friend and that situation…
After the conversation was over, I didn’t feel like I had helped in the least. I thought a lot of what I had to say was good information. I thought a lot of it was generally wise counsel. But I also had a very uneasy feeling that I couldn’t shake. I began to process what had happened and then it hit me. They never asked me for advice. They never asked me for information. They asked me for prayer. They needed a listening ear. The best thing I could have done would have been to listen intently, let them know that I was listening for real, and then follow it up with a commitment to pray. If time and space presents itself, then I may be able to pray with them right then and there. If it doesn’t, then I should make note (mental or physical) to actually spend some time in prayer for them.
My friend didn’t need me to fix them. They didn’t need me to solve all their problems. They needed a listening ear and the prayers of a friend. Why is it that those are two of the hardest things for me to provide? Probably because those things don’t always make me feel better about me…they don’t make me look good or puff me up. Essentially, they aren’t as good for my ego as hearing myself pontificate. They are the humble and loving things to do, yet I rarely do them. I don’t know if you have the same struggles. But if you do, consider just listening. Ask a question or something for clarity if need be, but just listen. Spend time praying for them like you said you would. Don’t let it drop out of your mind and heart as soon as they walk away. Carry their burden to the Throne of Grace. (Isn’t it ironic that I’m now giving advice…)
The longer I live, the more I realize that I’m clueless about most of life. I can hardly find answers to my own questions, much less the complex ones that others come to me with. I don’t have answers, but I know the One that does…and I can talk to Him about it…and trust Him to sort it out.
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