We’ve all had someone give us advice with the best of intentions, I’m sure. And at least once, that advice made us think negative thoughts toward the giver. “Honestly,” we might think, “does this person have the tiniest clue what I’m going through?”
We know that the person meant well. We may even believe that the person genuinely cares for us. But we have to wonder about the connection to reality this person has, since what she’s telling us to do completely misses the point of the situation.
Interestingly, I have found myself in this very position of late. Not on the receiving end; I have been the giver of this “bad” advice.
Click here for a witty pop culture reference. (Note: due to recent changes in laws, I can no longer link to interesting movie clips to illustrate my points.)
So what went through my mind as I spoke these unhelpful words to my hurting friends? I knew that what I was telling them wasn’t relevant to their situation; after all, they needed concrete, actionable things to do in order to resolve the issues at hand. So why in the world did I fob off esoteric, spiritualized answers on them?
Like any other well-meaning rhapsodizer, I truly think that what I offered was what they needed to hear. Without giving away sensitive details, allow me to illustrate.
Sally McFriend has a boss who’s barely out of high school, in his first management job, and doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing. Boss Boy orders everyone around, nit-picks over every detail, and gets upset because Sally made a sale using a method other than his. He threatens to take away her new prospects (for which she receives next to no commission anyway) and vaguely hints that her job might be in jeopardy. Sally is frustrated, furious, and about two minutes from smacking him.
So I tell her to get closer to God.
If I may use a popular slang term, WTH? Sally needs tips on not doing something that would cost her the job or land her assault charges, not some hyper-spiritualized claptrap that has absolutely no bearing on keeping her out of trouble. I mean, come on. Everybody knows that religious answers are cop outs.
May I explain why I told her that? I’m guessing that if you’re still reading this, then you are at least curious.
How is “getting closer to God” going to help Sally keep her cool and her job? It’s not the zen thing where you become one with the universe and petty mortal concerns don’t affect you. Honestly, that doesn’t go deep enough to get to the root of the issue. It’s not avoiding the issue or pretending it doesn’t exist; that builds a bottleneck that usually makes a messy explosion later on.
I base my advice on several assumptions. Here are a few:
- God is real.
- God has the power to do what He wants to do.
- God is purposely active in our lives.
- God loves each one of us and wants to make our lives better.
It’s popular to say that if God really loved us and really wanted to make our lives better that He would make all the bad stuff go away and give us tons of money and no diseases or jerk bosses, etc. However, that is a Band-Aid approach that does not address what’s really going on.
I won’t get into the “fallen world” doctrine at this time, but I will say that we live in a world where bad stuff happens to good people and good stuff happens to bad people. We can all see this, every day. Sally is making real effort to do well at her job and earn an honest living. So why is she under a supervisor who plays power games with her? Why do babies starve and murderers live well? Because the world is broken.
Rather than grouse about the whys and wherefores, I propose that we look at what we can do to remedy the matter at hand. By the time social reform makes bad bosses a thing of the past, we, too, will be things of the past. By the time world hunger and global crime get eliminated, the people currently affected by it won’t have had any relief. So what can we do?
And how in the world does drawing near to God make any of that better?
Each of us can make the greatest impact on ourselves. It’s our hearts and attitudes that we can change first and most thoroughly. Yet even that has limited effect; just ask anyone with an addiction. You know it’s bad but you do it anyway. You know you need to change or die, but you just can’t. We each hit a wall in our self-improvement that just doesn’t have a weak spot.
This is where God comes in and comes through. It’s my experience that God, while considerate of our physical needs, is far more concerned with our character. It’s the teach-them-to-fish concept. A starving person needs food, so it makes sense to just hand over a fish the first time. But after that, does it make more sense to continue handing over fish or to teach the person how to fish?
In this example, we see that hunger is a continual experience and need in life. No matter how much you eat, eventually you will be hungry again. So is it kindness, is it love, to never let a person figure out how to feed herself? Or is it love to teach that person what to do when hunger returns, as it inevitably will?
God wants for us to overcome the circumstances that we all face, that this broken world throws at us. If God took away everything that ever challenged us, smoothed over every bump in the road and took all responsibility away from us, we’d go from this to this in a hurry. It might look great at first, but life would lose all meaning.
God does not cause suffering, but He does use it to make us better, to make us all that we’re supposed to be. When we let our bad times turn us toward God, we learn how to conquer the problems rather than ignore them, pretend they aren’t so bad, or let them beat us down.
So for Sally McFriend, Boss Boy’s behavior isn’t the problem. The problem is her response to him. By drawing closer to God and learning the things He wants to teach her, she will figure out how to get past that wall in her personal development that usually lands her in trouble. In choosing God over the anger/pain/fear/humiliation/hunger, she will gain the skill she needs to overcome.
And that is why I will continue to dole out “bad” advice. Life will continue to throw hard times at you. It will continue to be unfair. How are you going to respond to that? We all have the initial gut-response, but after that, what will you do? Will you live in fear and anger or hunger or pain? Will you slam into that metaphorical wall time and time again? Or will you go to the source of life, sit at His feet, and learn all His fishing tips?