HAVE YOU HAD FOOT IN MOUTH?
Have you ever been chatting with someone and they’ve opened up and shared a personal story… and you have no idea how to respond? Or perhaps you’re talking with someone who is upset or grieving or facing tough circumstances and you just don’t know what to say?
I was recently forwarded a great article written by Celeste Headlee. wherein she shared a mistake she made when talking with a grieving friend who had recently lost her father. She found her friend sitting alone on a bench outside their workplace, absolutely distraught. Celeste had no idea what to say to her, so she talked about her dad who had died when she was only nine months old.
After Celeste had finished sharing, her friend looked at her and snapped, “Okay Celeste, you win. You never had a Dad, and at least I got to spend 30 years with mine. You had it worse. I guess I shouldn’t be so upset that my Dad just died.”
Of course, Celeste was mortified. She replied to her friend, “That’s not what I’m saying at all. I just meant that I know how you feel.” To which her friend answered, “No, Celeste, you don’t. You have no idea how I feel.”
Sometimes when we don’t know what to say we make it about us. Often unintentionally, often with a desire to show empathy or to connect or show we understand. When we’re uncomfortable, it’s easy to turn to a topic we’re comfortable with – ourselves or our own experiences. But this shifts the attention away from the person and what they’re going through and puts it back on us. It risks shutting down the conversation. In this case, Celeste later realised her friend had wanted to share about her father, but in talking about her own experiences, Celeste had made herself and her loss the focus.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Celeste went on to write about shift responses and support responses. Shift responses shift the attention back to ourselves, support responses support the other person’s comment.
Here are a few examples that Celeste gave:
Mary: I’m so busy right now
Shift response: Me too. I’m totally overwhelmed.
Support response: Why? What do you have to get done?
Karen: I need new shoes.
Shift response: Me too. These things are falling apart
Support response: Oh yeah? What kind are you thinking about?
I love that Celeste doesn’t just point out something we are all inclined to do, but she offers do-able advice that we can all take on board when talking with others – and not just in the hard conversations, but in our everyday connecting with people.
We all struggle sometimes to know how to best care for others – whether it’s in conversation or giving practical help. Thankfully as Christians we have the Holy Spirit to help us! We can ask Him to guide us, and trust Him to do so. Let’s not let our fear of getting it wrong immobilise us so that we do nothing, but trust God and reach out to others around us.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
At our recent Church training night I shared this quote by Edward T Welch, who is a counsellor and faculty member at the Christian Counselling and Education Foundation (CCEF). I’d like to close with his encouragement:
“Our God seems to delight in using helpers whose most prominent qualification consist of love and the wisdom that comes from knowing Jesus (1 Co 2). With this in mind, we aim for growing competence, but we expect that God will use us long before we feel comfortable with our level of expertise. What we are aiming for is a path that combines two characteristics:
- The kind of humility that knows “There are so many things I do not understand,” and
- The kind of confidence that believes that the tools we have in Jesus Christ – prayer, Scripture, love and compassion – are immensely powerful.”
~ Edward T Welch
Your Care Team pastor,
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