Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Beyond Words

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I'm not sure what it is about coffee shops, but everyone knows they are excellent places for talking.

Turns out, they are also excellent places for listening. The scenario has been repeated over and over in the past few months: I'm sitting across from one of my friends, my hands hugging the cup of Vanilla Roobois tea, and she gives me the gift of her story. Sometimes, her words are memories and moments that teach me a little more about her and help to build our friendship. Sometimes, I'm soaking up wisdom. And other times, she trusts me enough to dare to tell me things she doesn't like to share with other people, to let me see some of the broken pieces in her world.

That is such a gift. And I'm learning that the gift to give her in return goes beyond words - it's simply listening.

Listening is more than actually hearing what she says; you can listen and understand without giving someone your undivided attention. But listening is about giving her your presence, making her know that she is heard. That you care. That you believe her, and you believe in her. That she matters. That you're there.
Really, it's showing that you love her. You love her and want to hear what she has to say, whether that is a funny happening in class or a tragic past. As more and more of my friends have let me in on their very difficult pasts - whether that involves rape or accidents or wrong choices – I’ve learned a little bit about how to respond and how to be a friend. And as your friends are entrusting you with their stories and wounds, I thought I’d share these thoughts with you:

1) Listen. As I wrote above, it’s both important and a gift to her if you really listen to what she has to say. Sometimes your words aren’t needed. She just needs your presence, your ears. James 1:19 says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” Ask follow-up questions if it seems appropriate, but if you don’t have anything to say, it’s okay to not say anything at all. Just let her know that you care.

2) Let her know that this doesn’t change how you see her. Telling you something like this can be terrifying and vulnerable. Above all, let her know that she’s still your dear friend.

3) Remember that you are not her savior. This is something that I am definitely still learning (along with everything else!). But you need to remember that ultimately, you can’t do much for her. You can’t save her, and you can’t heal her. Your love can be a blessing and point her to truth and healing, but you can’t actually save her. Don’t try, and don’t try to assume her emotional burdens on yourself. Yes, the Bible says to carry each other’s burdens, but it also says to cast all our own worries and burdens on Jesus. I’m pretty sure that means that we should come alongside her and help to point her back to the cross – and carry her burdens there as well. Jesus is the only one who can do anything about them, and he already has. You weighing yourself down with her worries and emotions, or imagining yourself in her place doesn’t actually help anyone.

4) Pray. This is the obvious, #1 thing to do – but pray while you’re listening, pray for the right words, and pray for her. If your friend is a Christian, pray with her and remind her of the truth. Text her verses and reminders that you are praying. And if she’s not a Christian, in addition to praying on your own, you can also ask her if it would be okay to pray for her, right then and there. Many people will find some comfort in that, even if they don’t believe themselves – and it may plant some seeds for spiritual interest or discussions later.

5) Ask for the right words. I’ve been in a lot of situations where words seem wholly inadequate. There aren’t any right words. But you can still ask God to give you the words to say, if you should say anything. Mark 13:11 says, “Do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” In context, this verse is talking about being arrested or on trial for our faith. But I think it illustrates that the Holy Spirit does give us wisdom and words when needed. God is able to provide words that will touch her heart or even address things that she didn’t mention or realize she needed to hear.

6) Show grace. Remember that we are all sinners, standing equal at the foot of the cross. If she is a Christian, she needs to be shown grace and not judgment – remember that, but for the grace of God, that story could be yours. Point her to the truth, to the gift of the cross, in a way that is filled with grace and mercy. And if she’s not a Christian, the Bible explicitly says that it’s not our business to judge. So skip the judging and instead be a safe friend, welcoming her with love and grace.

7) Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. There are many situations where even a loving, listening friend isn’t enough. Don’t be afraid to encourage her to seek counseling or to meet with a pastor – there is no shame in that, and there are deep soul-wounds that neither she nor you can handle on your own. And obviously, if she’s thinking about suicide or trapped in a serious eating disorder – or something else destructive – get professional help for her if she’s unable to do it herself.

Friends are a blessing. You are a blessing. Keep reaching out and showing the love of God in your relationships!

{We’d love to hear your thoughts! Is there anything that you think we’ve missed? Any of your experiences you’d like to share? Comment below!}

3 comments:

  1. Thank you, this was so helpful. I particularly liked the point about remembering that we are not the saviour- it's so easy to always want to solve others' problems even though we can't. Thanks.

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  2. Hey,

    How are you guys doing

    I've just discovered this blog, because of another blog called "truthfaithlove", and what I've read so far, I’m enjoying a lot, I'll keep reading, but it's nice to see that, the young generation of around the world has been doing such amazing work by helping each other, by being there for each other, by spreading the graceful word of our beloved Lord and sharing the same love that our Father has been, forever, given us. May we all be blessed, specially this young and glorious folks that have been saving so many lives. There will be a day that we all will get together and thanks our Father for this great opportunity that we have been blessed with – Love our brothers and sisters as He loved us.

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  3. Hi Anna!

    Thanks so much for your comment. We're so glad that you found Bloom! through Francine's blog and pray that you will continue to grow closer to our Heavenly Father.

    Keep your eyes on Him!
    Joanna

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