I was hammered this week by a very good Christian friend as I attempt to make decisions that are fracturing me and torturing others as they wait on me. So the post by T.K. Coleman on his blog, “Tough-Minded Optimism” (re-blogged on my post, Nov. 20) really resonates, but in the context of how we understand and advise others. My friend delivered her pronouncements and judgments from the passenger seat of my car as though she was Moses standing on the mountain with stone tablets in his hands. She heaved those tablets right at me.
She was trying to force a decision, get me off the fence, give me a kick in the pants. But it felt more like being bludgeoned further into a corner with a big stick. She wants to see me relieved of my painful inner conflict, because she cares about me. But probably, even MORE, she wants to be relieved of the pain SHE feels by seeing my pain. Way MORE than she wants to integrate the complexity of my decision, to hear my heart and good intentions. It is easier for her to see it simply, judge me, and be more comfortable. (This is also relates to why people blame the victim – to relieve “cognitive dissonance.”). She feels justified, self-righteous, loving, and helpful.
A quote from T.K.’s post:
What is left out of the above analysis, however, is the plethora of other factors that can constitute difficulty or ease for a person.
We have not yet discussed their childhood or their past traumas. We have not yet discussed their quality of education. We have not yet discussed differences in gender, ethnicity, or physical appearance and the advantages or disadvantages that come along with those. We have not yet discussed any addictions, allergies, or other ailments that may complicate life for them. We have not yet discussed the quality of their relationships with family. We have not yet discussed their support networks of friends and colleagues. We have not yet discussed their fears, insecurities, and personal weakness. We have not yet discussed their ability to process their emotions and cope with everyday stress. We have not yet discussed their personal philosophies and the burdens or benefits that accompany their worldviews.
We have not yet discussed many of the very things that could completely alter our perception of who is and who isn’t suffering.
Do we NEED to discuss those things? I hope not.
I hope that we can be skeptical enough to subject our assumptions to rigorous scrutiny whenever we feel inclined to put ourselves on a pedestal that elevates our hardships above the hardships of others.
When my children and I were being abused by our Christian husband/father, several people counseled me to stay, based on limited information and their own life perspectives. They didn’t understand, but they felt qualified to judge. My friend, the hammer, once went through a period when she had to leave abuse from her Christian husband for a time. She received similar counsel – strongly – from both camps. She was sinning to leave; she was a fool to go home. She once expressed gratitude that I had supported her during that period by being steady and non-judgmental. I understood her dilemma (somewhat, as I was in kind of the same situation, sort of), accepted what she needed to do (valued her and her health), and didn’t act mean to her spouse (stood with with her against abuse but respected the person). I wish everyone, everywhere, and IN EVERY CHURCH, would frame the quote above, re-read it often, and consider all those issues with prayer before speaking.
I admit it. I’m guilty. I’ve put myself on the judge’s pedestal. I’m framing that quote. Really.
Consider this if you are “supporting” a woman in an abusive situation:
Encourage her by –
- listening for understanding – and trying to really HEAR her
- identifying abuse as abuse
- backing her with practical helps (financial aid or sources, lodging, legal, counseling, etc.)
- sharing your belief in her strength and good intentions
- sharing your confidence in her happier future
- thinking through pros, cons, and alternatives with her
- being patient – she is under crazy-making stress
- keeping her company and doing normal, fun things
- trying to provide her with TOOLS and STRENGTH to enable her to make HER decisions
- respecting that she will make the best decisions she can with the resources she has
Do not assume that she is wired the way you are. Do not coerce, badger, or insult to force her to decide what she is just not able to decide yet. By doing so, you abuse her further and, in-effect, assert that it is her job to make YOU comfortable with her choice and timing.
If her struggle is too painful for you, help her connect with others who have the resources YOU don’t have – take care of both of you. Don’t guilt her, and don’t guilt yourself. You can’t fix it. You are a small piece of a long process. She needs your peace and steadiness, not your control.
How much kinder our world would be if we would know that we don’t know it all, and maintain respectful humility as we interact with others, especially when we are in a position to impact their lives with our judgments and advice!
Rom 14:13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.
1 Peter 4:11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Matt 23:23-24 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
James 1:19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
If I missed something here, feel free to comment. I would love to hear what you have to add.
Tagged: abuse, advice, Bible, church, counsel, decisions, divorce, Domestic Abuse, humililty, judge, patience, prayer, Psychological Abuse, religion, respect, scripture, strength, stumbling block, support, term stress, violence in families, words