“All of us, at certain moments of our lives, need to take advice and to receive help from other people.” (Alexis Carrel)
Of course that little quote came from the Jack’s Winning Words blog that I get 5 times a week. Jack went on to write – Sometimes the advisers suggest “consult a pastor.” There truly are problem situations out there in the real world. Fortunate are those people who have someone “to lean on.” 😉 Jack
Jack is the retired pastor of the church that I attend and I’m sure many people have found him to be a comforting pillar to lean on over the years. I have always found Jack’s calm, yet warm, presence and reassuring words to be a comforting touchstone to which I could look for reassurance that things would be alright if I continued to put my trust in God.
Asking for help or advice for others is hard for some people. They were probably told not to be a cry-baby when they were growing up and to “suck it up” and face things themselves. They may be embarrassed to be in a position to need help. Many want help, but just don’t know how to ask for the help they need. There are also people who seem to decline help of any sort from anyone. They push away those who are seeking to help them or stubbornly refuse to ask for the help they need, even in the face of certain failure. Of course there are also people who are so blissfully ignorant of their situation that they don’t realize that they need help.
We live in an interconnected world and it is important to realize that our problems do not occur in a vacuum, nor will the solutions to those problems be found in a vacuum. Problems may be caused by, or may impact, others around us. We are not alone in this problem space and we may be able to get advice or help from others, based upon their experience with the same problems. It is also important to share our problems with loved ones, so that they understand what may be causing us to act as we are and not think that they are the cause of those actions.
In Jack’s post, he mentioned a couple of the advice columnists in our local paper and, certainly, that is one way to seek advice. A quicker way is to turn to those around you that you know and trust and just ask, “if this happened to you, how would you handle it?” For those problems that are too big or too embarrassing to discuss with casual friends, one may need to turn to trusted sources, often a relative or very close friend and sometimes a pastor, priest, rabbi or imam. Keeping problems that are gnawing at you inside just makes them seem bigger and scarier. The key is to get it out there and ask for their advice or help.
Sometimes, just summoning up the courage to share your problem with a trusted friend is enough to release the pressure that had been building up inside of you. Even if that friend doesn’t have a whole lot of advice to give you, the fact that you got it out there and found a way to verbalize what has been bothering you many time allows you to take a whole new look at the problem yourself. You may realize that what you thought was the problem wasn’t what was causing all of the anxiety or concern, so much as how you were reacting to the problem. Stating the problem clearly also may allow you to take the step of saying to yourself, “So what?”
Years ago I wrote a post here about being able to say “So what” to life’s problems. That post was based upon some advice that I had received from a friend and neighbor, John Hussy. John often used the phrase “So what” when dealing with many of life’s issues and he advised me to stop and look at things the same way. If you can look at what has happened or what may happen and say, “So what? Did (or will it) it kill me?” Then you can put the problems into perspective. So what if I got turned down for the date or that new job. So what if I had a meltdown in public or at work? So what if I’m not in the “in crowd” at school or at work? So what if some people see me as “different” and don’t understand or accept me? Did any of those things kill me? If not, then why am I letting them dictate my life now? You may realize that it is not the perceived problem that is causing you the pain; but, rather your reaction to it. It’s time to say “So what” and move on. You’ve got better things to do with your life than worry about those “So what” problems.
The take away here is not to keep things bottled up. Seek help or advice from others. Then listen to their advice and sort through what makes sense to you to try or accept their help and get on with the task. Many times the path to a solution will become apparent just because you had to explain to someone else (and in the process to yourself) what you perceive the problem to be. Don’t forget God in your search for help, since talking to Him is often the best way to resolve things. I have written several times here about the calming and healing effect of the simple prayer, “Not my will but thy will be done.” Try it some time. Give God your problem. You may discover that giant weight is removed from your mind after saying that little prayer and believing that it will happen.
Learning how to seek and accept help is just part of learning how to live in our interconnected society. Another part is learning how to give help to those who reach out to us. So many times we get off on the wrong foot by starting out with some statement like, “I know how you feel”. No you don’t, so don’t just say that and expect a good reaction. It is better to say, “I don’t know how you feel, but I accept that you are in pain; how can I help.”
Acceptance is the foundation to being a good source of help. Start with the mentality that says I accept you as you are, not like I would like you to be. Then ask them to share the source of their pain and listen (don’t talk). Being a good listener is the key to being a good helper. Sometimes you will hear things that the speaker doesn’t even realize that they are saying. It may be in how things are phrased or emphasized that gives you the clue to the real root of their problem. It’s hard to listen that intently if you are talking or thinking about what you will say next.
Another key to being a good advice giver is not to offer advice only within the context of your own life experiences. If your advice starts with, “Well, if it was me, I’d…” it is likely to be ignored. It’s not you and the person who you are trying to help isn’t going to react as you think you might. If you start off with, “Wow, I can’t imagine how that must feel”; but maybe here are some things you might try; at least you’ve gotten off on a better foot.
Having the ability to be a good listener and offering good advice only works for the other person if they perceive that you are willing to help. It’s hard enough for them to ask for help, much less trying to seek that help from someone that they perceive to be self-centered, aloof or uncaring. Being perceived by others to be a caring and open person, with whom they can discuss things, takes work. It means greeting others as if you are happy to see them and are interested in their lives. It means asking about then before telling them about things in your life. It means listening when they talk, instead of focusing upon what you want to say next. It means picking up on what they are saying and how they are saying it and asking follow-up questions. It means opening up your shell and dropping your shields first, so that they feel comfortable doing the same with you.
Being there to share their pains and to give help or advice is not for everyone and not for every situation or person that you may encounter, but it is critical for those in your life with whom you share bonds of love or true friendship. There is no greater calling or responsibility than to become a trusted adviser to your friend or loved one. Treat the role with the respect that it deserves.
Sometimes the little prayer that I referenced above is a good way to bring both of you to a humble, open starting point from which to honestly discuss a solution to the problem. Nothing exposes your own vulnerability and honest concern for them more than asking the other person, “Will you pray with me?” If they cannot or will not respond positively to that request, then perhaps they are not yet ready to accept your help.
So, my friends, as we venture into a new week ahead; don’t be afraid to seek the help you need and be ready and open to give the help that you can to others. In either role, never be afraid to bring the power of God into the conversation. That may be the best advice of all.