When someone close to us feels distressed, we learn to live with our sense of helplessness while we wait for some signal from them that they seek our comfort. Not that we’re totally passive, but in the midst of our reaching out to provide comfort in their distress, they signal us that they’d like to talk or pray together again, by phone or in person. Or when you offer, they respond positively and the two of you set a date and time.
We wait for that signal because, in our efforts to help another person, we can try too hard. When someone close to us feels distressed, one of the most important ways we misstep is our need to give advice. “If I were you…” we say. When we’re with someone so obviously needy, it’s hard to resist.
Because we care, we feel pressure to get to the heart of the other’s difficulty, to help them resolve it, to relieve their suffering. It’s hard for us to watch them hurt. Even when there seems to be very little we can do, we feel the need to try. We want to say something healing, to share our solutions, or to provide hope. The solution seems so obvious, how could they also not see it?
The problem: our words of comfort, reassurance, or advice can be premature. We communicate we don’t understand. In his first response to Job’s desire to die, Eliphaz makes that blunder: “But I would resort to God; I would lay my case before God” (Job 5:4 JPS).
Has a friend offered you their premature advice? How did you respond? Have you done so yourself? How did your friend respond?