Yesterday I apologized to my 17 year old for coming unhitched at him over his lack of finish on a project. I had tried very hard to get him to do something. Very. Hard.
Then I got distracted and busy, and saw he hadn’t finished it yet. Still.
And then I realized it might not get done.
And then I started disrespectfully “mothering him” (aka nagging) (forgetting he is a man in need of respect) without even really understanding what he was dealing with, without being respectful of him as another imperfect person on the planet…and at one point, he honestly told me, “Mom, the more you talk, the more you try to get me to do this, the less I want to…”
But true. SO VERY TRUE.
I had become a DE-Motivator.
Thank You, Jesus, for revealing this to me.
And thank You Jesus, for giving me such real relationship with my son that he felt he could safely speak his truth into my life – and God could show me the negative effect I was having…
And maybe we’d both be more like Him…
So my son received three attempted apologies, where I made things worse before I made them better, then I went in – finally getting it and empathized. “What’s going on here, why is this hard for you to get done?” I asked.
Then I listened.
Then I said I was sorry.
Then I said I was wrong to have nagged at him and that he deserved better from me and that I’d try not to do it again. He readily forgave me – and then… HE DID THE THING.
Good grief. And I teach classes on this stuff.
And then I started thinking about a very special group of women that I’m in relationship with, one where we encourage each other, support each other, and pray for each other as we do hard things together.
We have actively chosen to follow Christ in our relationships. Regardless of how hard it is, we want to do the right thing, as He would show us. And yesterday, I posted some “ground rules” because we have some new members – and I realized that these “ground rules” apply to “Girlfriend Skills 101.”
So here they are. Know they apply to all of our relationships, too, and might provide some guidance for some of your interactions in groups or on social media, and in your relationship with your husband….
Know these things may or may not work for you, know also that they are based on Biblical principles, but you might have situations where you would find yourself in disagreement with me. I’m okay with that and interested in the dialogue. I don’t pretend to be perfect – there’s only one Jesus. As for me, I’m a saint with a sin issue, and will always be.
So in dealing with a struggling sister, first, we best encourage each other through:
3. demonstrating compassion
5. offering a verse of encouragement (maybe)
6. offering a life experience that demonstrates we have shared in sufferings (maybe)
We do NOT offer encouragement, in other words, it is not experienced as encouragement when we teach (or discipline, or admonish, or whatever term you want to insert here) someone with lectures or even the Word or experiences (this can only be done through long-term trust based relationships) when the advice is UNSOLICITED. So if someone asks for prayers, then prayers they should receive. Love is long-suffering. People can’t be forced to learn if they are not ready or in the right place on their journey – and the Holy Spirit will open the door for them, often through dialogue with caring Christian people.
Just like dealing with our husbands, who may seldom want advice, if God has a Word for them through us (and don’t kid yourselves, sometimes He does), He will bring it to mind, again and again. His Word will show up – and we can send a short message or comment to our sister or our husband by saying, “Say, I don’t know if this means anything to you, or if it would even be of help, but as I was praying for you today, God kept bringing this verse to mind, do you mind if I share it with you?” or, “I know you may have thought of this already, and I don’t know if what worked for me might work for you, but as I was praying for you, I had a thought that kept coming to mind – do you mind if I share it with you??”
Thing is, people say the Bible contradicts itself for a reason.
Sometimes we confront a sin, sometimes we over look the insult. Both are in the Word, but only God knows what we should do. So for us to assume we know what someone needs to do, well, that’s our pride trying to be God again. And trust me, I make this mistake still, too. But doing it less has impacted my relationships. Just because I think I know doesn’t mean I need to share – God will confirm it for me if I do.
And there is a difference between sympathy and empathy. Not to talk semantics, but sympathy is getting into the pit with someone and staying there (not a healthy thing – it enables), empathy is communicating with someone in the pit, but being ready to lend a hand to them when (if ever) they are interested in getting out – empathy has the strength of having part of itself outside the pit. Empathy doesn’t wallow, but understands and shares compassion. Empathy knows that the pit-dweller can’t see outside the pit at the moment and that their neck and body are doing everything they can to stand up, but they can’t see up yet. And it’s willing to wait and share strength until the pit-dweller is stronger.
And people can’t get out of their pit until they feel heard.
And they can’t get out of their pit unless they want to.
And they can’t get out if we are trying to drag them. Usually it makes them want to dig in their heels deeper, because they are dying for some input/control/influence SOMEWHERE in their lives.
Empathy isn’t sympathy – empathy has its own life, and checks in on me from time to time, but is healthy enough to move on if I try to suck the life out of it, if I try to drag it down into my pit with me to live… Empathy says, (figuratively) “No, I love you, but I’m not a pit-dweller.” Empathy says, “I see this is hard for you, however, and I’m so sorry you are suffering. Tell me more about how you are feeling and what God is showing you.” Empathy asks, “How can I pray for you?”
Having TONS of wounding from my childhood (um, hello, like everyone else who is self-aware), sometimes it takes me a while to get out of my own pits – I need to share a few times, know I’m heard, know I’m understood, and experience compassion, then when I’m ready to get out, I need a hand I can trust. Someone I have relationship with already. Someone I know fairly well and believe has my best in mind.
I don’t need someone telling me I’ve done it all wrong, or that I have so much to be thankful for, or come on there are starving children in Africa what do I have to be upset about? Neither do our husbands, neither do our sisters.
And that hand I take? It’s one almost always offered with permission.
One of the most important things we can do to communicate respect is to ASK PERMISSION before giving advice. “I’m so sorry you are struggling. I’ve been there. I know how hard this is…if you want to talk, let me know. I’d love to help you.”
Love God. Love others. Tough stuff. Worth doing well. Worth doing poorly until we get it right. (Zig Ziglar style)
And when we mess it up? (Not IF but WHEN)
My husband and I are currently growing in this area, and I know it affects ALL of my relationships. I apologize daily, as in MULTIPLE TIMES A DAY to literally everyone I live with. Sometimes they are big apologies, sometimes small, and no, they aren’t martyrdom-doormat style experiences, they are humble attempts of a fellow saint/sinner who is sometimes distracted, judgmental, a bad listener, short-tempered, anything but loving.
From the 5 Love Languages of Apology:
“I was wrong”
“I’ll try not to do it again”
“What can I do to make it right?”
“Will you forgive me?”
And how do you HEAR apology? Here’s a test for you: http://
Might be worth doing with your spouse, too. I plan to with mine.
God’s purposes for His people.
And what else do we post about? VICTORIES!! Let’s be sure that we are celebrating each others’ glory sightings! WE NEED TO SEE THOSE FOR ENCOURAGEMENT! Keep em coming! Prayer requests always welcome, but glory sightings, too. And know that this is a safe place for people to practice these skills, encourage each other, and just do the next thing.
Love you ALL.
If you aren’t part of our Facebook community, please join us. After a while, you might be interested in joining our Army of Women. We do hard things. Sometimes poorly. But we get back up again, with the help of our sisters.
Glad you are on this journey with us,
Love to you,