I’ve just come from a long walk in the summer heat (be thankful you can’t smell me). Mark and I were running errands, and he suddenly remembered he needed to be somewhere soon. I wanted to head home. When we got to the end of the main thoroughfare to our neighborhood I said, “You can drop me off at the corner, and I’ll walk. I was planning to exercise anyway.”
He agreed and unceremoniously deposited me in front of a stoplight. I wondered what the truck in front of us speculated about this occurrence. Lovers’ quarrel? Suspicious character in yoga pants?
I’d driven down this particular road dozens of times but never walked it. Whizzing by in the car I didn’t notice how the red dust tastes like copper on your tongue. I didn’t hear the roar of cars in a hurry and know the way a semi-truck can sneak up on you like a snorting bull. I found out the pair of scruffy dogs behind a chain link fence were friends not fighters.
At first I felt intrigued by all of this but as the minutes went on and the sun beat down I began to notice other things too. I realized how unbearably warm the air is mid-afternoon, how there are cracks in the sidewalk waiting for unsuspecting toes, how the hills seem so much steeper and more exhausting when you don’t have an engine.
I glanced at the cars going past me and imagined one of them noticing my growing angst then rolling down their windows to give me advice. “Pick up the pace,” they might say, “Swing your elbows more.” At this point my response might be something which could not be publicly mentioned. I then considered how we live in a world of drive-by opinions. We face a challenge in life, and suddenly people have all kinds of thoughts about it. Well-meaning folks make off-handed remarks that start with, “You know you really should . . . ”
I’ve come to believe if we have not walked a particular road personally then we ought to approach any comments about it very, very carefully. Because sometimes life drops us off on the corner, and there is no time for preparation — only perspiration. When this happens, we don’t need “how to” but instead “me too.” We need folks who will just come alongside us or at least tell us they’ve been there. We need to hear we’re still loved, it’s okay to not be okay, and small steps add up to big things. We need the grace of Jesus.
If we find ourselves the recipient of lots of unsolicited advice (or even criticism), we often become overwhelmed. Then we feel shame and guilt because we’re not doing it right, because we’re melting on the sidewalk while going the speed of an ancient tortoise. The cars keep coming by with people yelling what they think we should do out the windows. We try to apply it all, but we can’t. If we were good people and better Christians, then we would be able to do it the way everyone tells us we should. What’s the matter with us?
We can become discouraged when we begin to think we have to do what everyone else tells us is the best way. The reality is it’s their way.
I finally rounded the corner to our neighborhood and breathed a sigh of relief.
From now on I’ll look at the road I walked down differently. And if someone told me they were about to start down that same path there would be plenty I could say. But I think I’d stick to this, “Thanks for telling me. I’ve been down that road too. You can do it. It’s going to be both harder and more beautiful than it seems. I’m cheering for you.”
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
I have been on the receiving end of well-meaning advice and plenty of “you should’s”. There’s even been times, when plodding down a very difficult road or panting up an excruciating hill, people have said things like, “just be thankful your situation’s not worse, like ___________ (fill in the blank).” Cliches and even quoting scripture to someone may be the last thing they need….maybe they need, grace, a listening ear, and a shoulder to lean on. I have learned that one of my greatest accomplishments is keeping my mouth shut . Sometimes the less said the better. A well timed hug, an encouraging word, a helpful act, and plenty of prayer, and just being present are often the best acts of grace. Awesome analogy….and message.
Even more difficult are the ones who are subtly or overtly waiting to see if I have done what they suggested or made improvements in my life. There is always the fear of, or reality of, their giving up on me if I haven’t done enough or if the situation has been resolved. Many times it is not that easy, and I often want to retreat from everyone rather than show that what I tried didn’t work or I didn’t do what was suggested.
Holley Gerth says
Well said, Bev and Lisa.
Michele Morin says
I’m absorbing this truth about gratuitous advice in my role as a mother-in-law.
It turns out there is more than one way to keep a house, feed a husband, care for a baby, and even to be a church woman! It’s amazing all that God can teach a woman whose mouth is closed and whose eyes are open!
Love this post… Love the word picture…. Such a perfectly poignant reminder… .this is something I need to remember and apply every day!
Grace is the way Christ touched the world… Grace is the way we can show our world Christ… Xoxo
Grace is also the word the Lord gave me for this year.. It’s also my middle name.. Lol..
When I had cancer, when I discovered our teen sneaking out, when we had church leadership problems, there was always more advice flying round than we needed, wanted, or could take in. As a pastor’s wife I’ve sat with lots of people going through tough things and I’m gradually learning to hold the advice and hold their hand instead, to say “I get it. That’s so tough. I can share what worked for me and what didn’t if you like, but I’m here.”
Having had the craziest things said to me when I was sick, I really believe other people’s pain makes people uncomfortable and in that discomfort they want to fix it, make it go away, and fill the awkwardness of the moment. Advice is a great filler.
Thanks for sharing Holley, a beautiful picture and encouragement to cheer people on not push them on.
PY Pyshora says
Love this especially! I’ve found that sharing stories are a lot better than giving advice. One reason we need different generations connecting with one another! Especially the good ones! Looking for the good in this world needs to become the daily thing to do!!
Oh my dear girl, you just spoke my heart…thank you for your words , my heart in print.
Macy Johnson says
I am always encouraged by your words of wisdom, Holley! Thanks so much for sharing!!
As a divorcée then single mom then widow (from cancer) then remarried and a cancer survivor myself all before the age of 49 – believe me…. I have heard a lot of ‘well, you should have’s….’ sadly, most of it has come from my church acquaintances. BUT GOD! I love your response. There most certainly will be hard times and beautiful times – that’s all a part of it! That is exactly what my experiences have led me to share with others. Compassion without judgement. I’m so thankful my Lord and Savior shares his grace, understanding and forgiveness with me everyday! If we are to be his hands and feet – shouldn’t we all try to do the same?! There are people hurting everywhere- it doesn’t take much to share a smile and/or a word of encouragement. It might just be the thing that draws them closer to Jesus and help get them through their day. Thank you for sharing your story!
I’m on my way to visit my daughter for a week this morning. This couldn’t have come at a better time. She’s recently divorced and going through a lot of changes and keeping herself way too busy and I was going to make some suggestions…but, now I’m not. I’m thinking of ways to be more helpful. Thank you Holley, and all the ladies that replied to you. I have certainly learned a lot…and I’m, 82. Who says an old dog can’t learn new tricks. This has also touched me in other ways too. Keeping my mouth shut instead of giving advice, what an amazing option. Blessings to you and all your readers.
Have a beautiful viSIT with your daughter. What “timely advice as you received it”. I have gone through some treacherously painful things and the one thing God has me do as my family was fracturing was “love on my parents” – love and honour my parents. He gave “abundantly beyond what I could hope for or imagine “ – navigating our hearts to one another in the deepest sorrow of my life. My mom became my sounding board confidante that she never was before- her listening ear was soothing balm to my heart – even though the miles separated us. God’s Majestic recipe for me became Majestic Splendour in experiencing my mom in a way I never have.
God gives JOY in sorrow and sends it too. You are His loving and livign postcard of love to your daughter. You are your daughter’s JOY in the sorrow. Just “loving as He loves will be enough for her” but if you could write her out all the “proud mom moments” and affirm her on a page or in a card, I am certain that her heart will soar with gratitude at the memory of the moments you shared.
I hope that God gives you both
lavish JOY and His Peace that surpasses in your visit together. Don’t forget to take lots of photographs and may laughter and gentleness be your companions.
Be blessed. You are a blessing. A daughter has only one mother and you are a glorious one.
Holley, as usual, you make me see the other side. My brother always said that there are three sides, yours, mine, and then there’s the truth. We can always see our side. We can sometimes see the other side. But we usually have a hard time seeing the truth – the real, honest and hard truth. It’s so much easier to tell someone else how or why to do something. Much, much harder to be the one struggling, therefore, grace is always the most important thing we can give each other. Thanks for the reminder of how we are to treat each other. Bless you
Susan Garrett says
When we moved to the country years ago, I remember looking along the road and enjoying grass and trees instead of concrete. It looked beautiful, perfect. Some days after moving I decided to exercise by walking that road. But when I got that close I could see the trash woven into the grass– fast food sacks, aluminum cans, plastic wrappers… Once I got close enough to see what it really was, it was not perfect as it had looked from afar. I realized that those friends or celebrities, or neighbors that I looked at longingly thinking they had the perfect life I was missing– if I got close enough I would see that they, too, had imperfection and struggles, and heart aches like me. Maybe not the same but a version of mine.
Mary Lehman says
Holley, your blogs are always timely and grace filled, but somehow, as a former codependent, I needed to read this today. Codependent people try to fix others, so why not make comments or give advice. We’re only trying to support them in their anguish, aren’t we? We need to look more deeply inside ourselves to judge our motives, as I have had to do lately. Yes, it usually involves keeping our mouth shut, while the other person, with dependence upon God, works out his or her own problem. Thank you for the kind reminder.
Holley Gerth says
Appreciate you, Mary.
Mary L. says
Holley, as a former codependent, I needed to read this today.
Codependents try to fix others. Well, isn’t that what “bearing one another’s burdens” is all about? I now have the tools to judge my motives and keep my mouth shut.
We can trust our Loving Father to be the same Loving Father who is going to provide the answers for another’s problem. We listen, we pray, and we encourage our friend or loved one by telling them God loves them and cares for them and He will guide them through the situation. Some times, while they speak and we listen, God is actually showing them the way forward.
Blessings on you for your faithfulness to write Truth.
Pearl Allard says
Holley, this is beautiful. Reading this was a breath of fresh air. I’ve been on both sides – needing to ask forgiveness for my insensitivity and feeling impaled by someone else’s. May we all grow in receiving and extending grace!
Suzanne Ackermann says
Thankyou for this devo Holly.
I am a “fixer”at heart. We currently have a mentally ill adult living with us. It is very trying. We are learning to empathize and listen more, but my “fixer” inclination still gets in the way. I hear God telling me to step back and show love. Stepping back is hard.
After living through infertility & a really tough adoption process twice & receiving so much unsolicited advice & shoulds & God won’t give you more than you can handle bologna ive come to the conclusion that nothing’s better than a plate of chocolate chip cookies & a more that reads “I’m praying for you”
Nancy Ruegg says
Perhaps advice-givers are doing their best to express love. They see our troubling circumstances and want to help us fix them. / Lord, help me be patient these folks, and just thank them for their input. And let such moments remind me to keep advice to myself unless it’s asked for! / Thank you, Holley, for addressing a common situation. Whether we’re in the position to give advice or receive it, may we seek the grace of Jesus to be wise and discerning.
Holley Gerth says
That’s a helpful perspective, Nancy.
Linda sullivan says
Thank you Holley for this post. Too often I have been on the giving advice side. When others don’t take my advice, I’m offended.
Who do I think I am. I really try to lead them to Scripture but more of me is in there than more of God.
What if I gave more grace than advice. Hmmmm, I believe God will be glorified. I was just talking with a friend about grace. I think God is trying to tell me something. Thank you again.
Beth Williams says
This post is spot on! To often people think they have the answers to our problems. While our situation may look similar to theirs, there could be subtle differences. Everyone doesn’t handle things the same way. I have a friend who was going through tough aging parent issues. Same ones I had with my dad. I just simply told her I understood what she was going through & praying for her. People don’t need or want clique answers to their problems. They want you to be a listening ear & understanding/praying friend. Women, especially, want to fix everything & everyone. Sometimes there is no fixing the problem. Send encouragement now & then. Check on the progress. Keep thy mouth shut otherwise. The best you can do is pray for them & let God handle it.
Thank-you sooo much, Holley! I REALLY needed this today!
Sandy C. says
My sweet grandmother always told me that God gave us 2 ears and one mouth for a reason…listen more than you talk (or give ‘advice’). But I still get this wrong. Thank you for your great reminder that only God knows it all. We just need to show grace and love.
Rhonda McLeod says
Holley, so grateful that you shared this story the way you did, the imagery brought me into walking with you. I believe this is well known, but not well practiced. I’ve realized in my ‘rumblings’ that I had an uncomfortable challenge with silence. You see, listening just for listening is an art that I’m practising, yet very often while I’m listening, a million ‘offers to advise’ keep rolling through my mind. Thank you for (in)couraging us to encourage with the grace of Jesus. That is swwwweeettt!
Julie Rosenthal says
Thanks Holley, I am going through a difficult time right now….in my work life, personal life and I really needed this today. I love the way God uses you!
Margaret Taylor says
I have just joined your site and am already a fan. Thank you so much for your caring, insightful observations about this Christian walk we undertake. Certainly having experienced a situation before can make us more empathetic , but I think just honest caring about each other can also give us the compassion we need to walk along side our fellow men and women. As the adage says – what would Jesus do?
Holley Gerth says
Thank you so much for sharing your hearts and words here, friends! Grateful for all of you!
Love the imagery and the story! I’m wondering how we give grace when we’re on the receiving end of advice – the end that says
“you’re not ____ enough; you need to change to be acceptable.” My common response is to get defensive, or to withdraw. But how can I be okay enough in my own mess, not necessarily intending to stay in the mess, but okay with where I’m at, in order to reach to those who send potshot advice. Because I’m sure underneath all those words there is a real hurting person who doesn’t have all the answers. Should I ignore/move on in order to protect myself? Wait til they reach a point in their lives when they need someone to come alongside? (Of course by then, there may be no relationship between us!) And make sure I walk in forgiveness so that I don’t end up being the person who is internally saying, ” I told you it wasn’t so easy!”