Like most “rules,” we find exceptions. When I last discussed offering our advice to someone distressed (2/15/13), I made the point that it’s usually premature. Giving premature advice comes from our sense of helplessness–indeed, our very real helplessness. There are times when advice can be offered–and well received. One factor is timing, another is the strength of our relationship. The two are related.
Timing says, give advice when your friend is open. That means we listen a lot at first. We feel our friend’s loss, and let them know it–not only with words, but with genuine concern, unspoken gestures, and acts of kindness. Just listening without comment goes a long way toward helping our friend know we care. Even when our friend asks for advice, however, we may resist in favor of helping them explore alternative actions they come up with. That enables maximum growth–and it prevents us from being blamed if they take our advice only to have it go wrong.
Relationship says, give advice when you and your friend feel a strong bond. That will eliminate a lot of “shooting from the hip,” which comes from our need to fix other people. That also means we have a much clearer idea of what our suffering friend feels and know what’s appropriate to advise, and what’s not.
When Eliphaz offers his advice, “But I would lay my case before God” (5:8), Job at first ignores it, but later picks up the idea of “case.” Job explores it as a legal term more and more in his speeches (Chapters 9, 13, 19), until finally he challenges God with a legal writ in Chapter 31. In other words, Job rejects Eliphaz’s advice at first, but later uses it to redress his grievance.
Premature advice rings hollow. Lay a strong foundation in devoting time and in strengthening your relationship first, and you won’t waste your ammunition by hitting the wrong target.
Have you found a friend’s advice helpful? Premature? Something you thought about and acted on later? Have you given advice to a friend? How did it work out?