We've all done it.
We've all given advice when it wasn't asked for, or suspected that someone else's situation is simple and you know the answer. What you may not know is how detrimental "fixing" can be to a relationship.
Recently, I wrote on the idea that when we “fix” others, it’s ultimately about us. It's about our discomfort with pain and gray issues that keeps us from allowing folks to have a process (This is part II in the series, I'd love for you to read part I here).
But, if we aren’t supposed to “fix” people, how do we respond when they are hurting or in pain?
I think the answer is quite simple to speak but immensely more difficult to live out: EMPATHY.
I love how Brene Brown discusses this idea here:
"If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive"
I know, you’re staring at the screen thinking…what? That’s what you want me to do when I see the person struggling with depression? Or the young mom who is sleep deprived? Or the woman whose PTSD is triggered?
I want you to start with empathy. Before you bring out your 10 point list of items to address and organized action steps, try to understand the emotion that person is experiencing.
Are they frustrated? Hopeless? Sad?
Have you ever in your entire life felt any of these feelings? Perfect, you can do this work. You may not understand their exact situation, but you can allow yourself to sit with that feeling and become connected to what they are experiencing.
After empathy we are often afforded the opportunity to love and support people in additional ways (e.g give resources). But if we don’t start with joining another person in their pain, we rarely have earned their trust to support them on their journey. In fact, you may find that without joining a person first and allowing them to teach you what they need, they will become less and less vulnerable with you.
Our best example of this principle was Jesus himself.
He joined us in our humanity and was no stranger to the pain and the muck of this earth (Luke 1:7 ). He lived among us and knew grief and longing and then ultimately He saved us (Isaiah 53:4). What a good God He is, that he would show us love by kneeling down and being with us in the hard.
Still not convinced?
Keep reading for a few more reasons to see that empathy is the way to go:
1. The hurting feel validated. I can’t tell you how frequently people come to counseling after feeling like they have no place in life to explore emotion. When others ignore a person's experience and jump to 'fixing,' we can unknowingly cause them to feel more entrenched in their position of weakness. Alternately, when a person feels heard they begin to recognize that they are not alone and may in fact, have options.
2. The weak feel empowered. When folks see that they’re actually the one who is in charge of the decisions in their life (not you), people tend to feel stronger and ironically enabled to make good choices.
3. Process is Honored. When we empathize we acknowledge that God chooses different pathways for his grace to be accomplished. At times he causes miracles to change someone immediately and sometimes he allows something to change through process. All of it is necessary and worthwhile...all of it.
4. We allow Jesus to be the Savior. Listen, when I act like I can give you all the answers I take the place (or at least try) of the one who can heal. But when I humbly and gratefully say that I am not the healer, I can then point you to one who is.
Finally, I find great hope in this truth:
Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus - Phil 1:6
Dear ones, we can trust that a good God loves all of our people even more than we do. Let us be quick to listen and slow to speak as we encourage each other to run hard.