/**/ The Purposeful Wife: When Advice is More Hurtful Than Helpful

Monday, February 16, 2015

When Advice is More Hurtful Than Helpful

Advice is overly abundant in our day and age. From countless internet articles to your grandma to your next door neighbor, everyone has more advice than you could possibly want, need, or use- on everything from how to feed your baby, how to beat infertility, how to discipline your kids, how to lose weight, how to most efficiently exercise, how to clean your home, how to get stains out of clothing.... and on and on and on. 

Deep down I think we all just want to be helpful. We find a method or answer that revolutionizes our life, and we want others to experience the same "eureka!" moment. Or while we may have no experience in the area on which we are advising, we want the recipient of our advice to know that we care and are trying to be of service. 

And yet...

Haven't we all been on the receiving end of unappreciated advice? Best case, we might just feel annoyed that so-and-so thought that they had the answer to all of our perceived parenting problems. Which might be because the advice was handed down with an air of condescension, or might just mean we are a little proud and need a softer heart. Or maybe we were just tired and cranky, not in the best place to receive the admonition given.

Worst case, sometimes advice can be downright hurtful. You've been trying to get pregnant for years, seeing various health practitioners and adjusting your lifestyle, all to no avail. That super-sweet lady in church hands you yet another article about a new study that could be relevant to your situation. She meant well, but the encounter is just another painful reminder that you still can't conceive a child. You've tried it all, and this suggestion makes you feel like you just haven't done enough.

I remember how I exclusively pumped breast milk for S's first year of life. We had met with several lactation consultants, read quite a few books and articles, tried many different techniques and positions... yet I still couldn't get my preemie to nurse. Many well-meaning women who had nursed their own babies {none of whom were preemies} gave me suggestions. "Have you tried this? What about that? That is so strange!" 

I felt deeply frustrated, because despite gallant and persistent effort and education, I was getting no where. These conversations left me feeling like I was not enough of a mother, or like it was pretty silly of me for not being able to figure out something so simple. Then my second came along and nursed like a champ- c'est la vie folks.

A recent conversation with a friend brought this all back to mind. I realized {once again!} that I am often way too quick to hand out advice that may or may not be appreciated. At best, annoying; at worst, hurtful or even offensive.

What if our friend sharing her struggles is really just longing for someone to listen? What if she doesn't want that quick answer, or our suggestion with the eight philosophical/scientific/experiential points that back us up?

What if instead of quickly offering solutions and suggestions, we took time to listen quietly and pray as we hear, only offering advice when it is asked for? What if, when our expertise was requested, we offered it in a quiet and gracious manner, leaving the recipient free to reject it if it doesn't work for them? 

Sometimes the best way to be helpful is to keep our mouths closed. To lend ears and encouragement instead of instruction. Yes, there is a time for giving good counsel. Absolutely! We are going to have to develop hearts of discernment to know when to say something and when to say nothing. Wisdom requires us to be students of God and His Word, and of the people we are in relationship with. 

Again, I will be the first to admit that I am way too quick to offer my opinion on an issue, way too often. So I'm praying for grace and trying to remember that love listens first. I don't want to hurt you in my efforts to help you.

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