Her Facebook post was meant to be humorous, not a solicitation for advice. Instead, it was meant to be a comedic head-nod to all the new-year weight-watchers who were already weary of salad — which was just about everyone.
Thus, she posted a hilarious quip from her recent class on weight and healthy living, a way to diffuse her very real and ongoing battle against weight and help fellow strugglers to find a little laughter along the way.
I smiled when I saw it. She’s one of my funniest friends, always finding the quirky moments in everyday life. I love the way she tells the truth about her weight journey, how she faces the rollercoaster of it with raw honesty and characteristic humor. I’ve watched her fight her battle over many years, and I know from our close friendship how difficult it truly is, how it has defined her life in many ways. And although she longs for it to be easier, for the weight to fall off and the fight to end, it continues.
She anticipated soliciting a few laughs. What she didn’t anticipate, however, was the rapid fire of pointed advice:
Have you tried ______?
How about ______?
You should buy/use/do THIS.
And my personal favorite: I am a consultant for ______, and I’d love to sell you our ______!
As I read the responses, I welled up with frustration and anger on her behalf. I know they were trying to help. I know they meant well and truly believed they could make a difference in her battle.
Even so, it didn’t help.
And it didn’t make a difference — at least not a positive one. Instead, all that advice only made her feel less understood and more alone.
She didn’t need her friends to fix her. She needed her friends to be with her.
But being with someone in their struggle isn’t easy. It requires us to step into their suffering, to feel something of their pain, to empathize and allow the battle to impact us in some small measure. That’s why we resort to fixing. Fixing keeps us from feeling, and fixing makes us believe, however falsely, that we’re beyond the touch of that particular struggle.
I’ve experienced more than my share of well-meaning advice-givers — online and in person — trying to cure me. Nearly every time I post a picture of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, some good-hearted soul sends me a long message urging me to please, please, please stop eating sugar or I am going to cause my cancer to come back. From their perspective, they believe they’re saving my life. Thus, their urgency and boldness.
But behind their advice lies a sinister implication: Your cancer is your fault. If you would just do what I do, you wouldn’t be in this mess.
Cancer and obesity aren’t the only ills at which we throw our advice. We point and shoot at parents who have rebellious children and husbands with unhappy wives. We sling our “help” at pastors who aren’t thriving and millennials who aren’t working.
But often what hurting people need isn’t a prescription but our presence.
For the record, I still mess this up quite often. I still spout off my “lessons” and “insights” to the poor soul who paused too long in our conversation. But I’m learning. I’m learning to slow down, to speak less, and listen more. Here are three questions I try to wrestle through before offering anyone a “cure”:
- Have I been asked for my advice? If not, don’t offer it. Period.
- What’s driving my need to speak? Her need or mine? This one question slows down any impulsive advice-giving habit. It requires thoughtful introspection and ruthless self-awareness. And I’d bet my Reese’s that my need often drives my words far more than anyone else’s.
- Have I earned the right? In other words, am I an inner-circle friend? Think of it this way: If she were hospitalized, do we have the kind of intimate relationship where I could help her to the bathroom? If not, why would I presume to speak into this vulnerability?
Here’s the short of it, friends. You and I, we don’t need any more advice or resources or dogmatic directives about how we should live and work and relate and be. One click of the browser or one flip of the TV will pull up endless information about all the ways we should do a better job of living our own lives.
Nope, we don’t need any more advice.
What we DO need, what we are downright desperate for, is real people to hold space with us as we are.
Those who enter in and stick around. Those who don’t require that we cure all our flaws before they hang out with us. People who not only tolerate unresolved, imperfect, in-progress people but actually want to do real, hard, beautiful life with them.
The irony? When you and I stop trying to fix one another and instead spend our best energy loving and enjoying and cherishing one another, some of the flaws and rough edges soften and smooth.
As it turns out, what is most wounded within isn’t a food problem or cancer problem; it’s a longing for love.
Do you have a friend who holds space with you, as you are? Give him/her credit in the comments for how their presence has impacted you.
Let's learn to slow down, to speak less, and listen more. -@MicheleCushatt: Click To Tweet Leave a Comment
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
I can identify with the part in which you say, “If we can fix then we don’t have to feel.” That gives me pause to think about whether my offering of advice is more about the person who is hurting or is it more about me? Ouch. I’ve been the recipient of well meaning advice about my battle with mental illness and other issues. I hesitate to say this, but even scripture can inadvertently discourage someone rather than lift their spirits. Having battled with clinical anxiety, I’ve had Philippians 4:6 quoted to me more times than I can count (Do not be anxious about anything….). Instead of helping me, it induces guilt that if I just prayed more with thanksgiving, I wouldn’t have this problem. Jesus, of all people, would have been justified to quote scripture, but He didn’t. He just let himself be with His friends and feel their pain. He wept with them. I agree…perhaps less talking, more listening, and offer advice only if asked for it. Excellent post!
Yes, I’ve been “convicted” by Phil 4:6 and mentioned it to a counselor once. He told me this….perhaps it would be helpful if you looked at it like an invitation to not be anxious instead of a command that made me feel guilty and like a failure. It helped. ( am I doing what the author is speaking against? yikes)
Michele Cushatt says
It’s interesting isn’t it, how a verse from God’s word can offer encouragement and community or cause deeper wounds and isolation? Goodness knows I’ve been guilty of the latter. God, teach us to use your Word to bring LIFE, not death, in Jesus’ name.
Beth Williams says
What an important post! We need friends like Job had. His three friends came & sat with him for seven days. They didn’t say a word. I try to be like that most of the time. There are occasions when I feel the need to offer advice-not rudely. Just sage wisdom from having walked the path they are on. Something I’ve learned that might help them. My offer says have you thought or did you know you could call X & they can help out. For me I am empathizing with them in their trial. I will never give cliche or glib advice thinking I know best. Offer to pray for & with the person.
God has blessed me with some great friends. They walk with me & with them on their journey. We love each other warts & all. Marie, Wanda, Coco, Kathy are a few. I can call them & ask for prayers or just check on them. We all laugh easily. Marie & I walked the journey of aging parents together. We understand each other from that perspective. Most times when I see these women-usually at church-we hug & see how our weeks went. Praising God for my friends!!
Michele Cushatt says
Yes, I’ve done the same at times, Beth. On occasion a word of direction is helpful. But I’m learning to proceed gently and with permission. Sometimes I simply ask, “I have a couple thoughts about how you might walk this situation out. Is now a good time to share these with you, or would you rather I wait for another time? I want to know what you need most right now. And if you just need me to sit with you in the mess, I can do that.”
M M says
Yes! Thank you for this! It blessed my heart!!! I give special credit to my ‘sisters’ and ‘prayer warrior support group’- those special gals who walk the journey with me. They give unbiased opinions and honest answers. They hear my heart and they bless me. They are close enough and honest enough that they will tell me where I’ve gone wrong. But they overlook my broken fence and admire the flowers. Thank God for them. And I pray that I will be that kind of friend! Listen, pray and care… And sometimes that is just a silent hug, or I love you and I care. They are not asking for my life experiences to help them on their journey. They are asking for love, prayer, acceptance and a listening ear. Thank you again for this!
Michele Cushatt says
Oh, Jesus, thank you for MM’s dear friends! What a beautiful example of being the church.
Thank you, Michele, for a thought-provoking message. How often do we struggle when others wish to share their wealth of knowledge, when all we really need/want is someone to listen or to walk alongside. Yet, somehow, all that goes forgotten as the roles are reversed. May we ask ourselves these questions and listen to His Spirit when in these situations. May the Lord bless you as you serve Him.
Michele Cushatt says
Yes, yes, yes. How many times have I made the same mistakes?!?! Goodness, even though I wrote this post, I’m still learning. And still stumbling. But I’m not who I was, thank you Jesus.
Darlean Tipke-Kane says
Thank you so very much!!Not only did I have the great fortune to work for Weight Watchers; but also have so much anxiety listening to my daughters anger and advice about my life now that I am an older woman. This was very healing to read. Of course, we are supposed to know these things, but you have given three unique blessing thoughts to practice. So deeply grateful. Peace.
Michele Cushatt says
I’m so glad, Darlean. With you, Sister.
I am blessed to have such a friend that is my listener and encourages me in my struggle with weight. She went from being a “fixer” to listener. She was with me in my 180 lb. weight loss and she is still with me as I have regained 40 lbs. Never passes judgement. She has a much better understanding of others that struggle with this.
Michele Cushatt says
Bless her. And you for recognizing the gift of her safe friendship. Beautiful
Born that way says
And that is why I keep the pain of my weight problem locked inside.
Michele Cushatt says
I’m so very sorry, my friend. It hurts, doesn’t it? To feel judged and misunderstood is the worst kind of loneliness. Please know you are loved and accepted and wanted right here at this (In)Courage table. Just as you are. You couldn’t be more beautiful to us.
Yes I have several friends like this and especially one of my newer very good friend, Amy. Amy is always there to encourage me and meet up with me from time to time. Although she is a very busy mom and wife, she is always willing to take the time to hear this crazy chick out. I am so thankful for her friendship through the years. It is amazing how we all of a sudden became friends without even realizing it and almost a decade later, we still are sharing this life together. It has been said that finding new friends gets harder as we age but for Amy and I, we truly hit it off.
Amy, if you are reading this, Thank You for loving on me even when I know I am unbearable and whiney. Your friendship means the world to me and I am looking forward to many more years. decades with you my friend. Love you.. Thank you Michele for sharing this message.
Michele Cushatt says
What a gift you both are.
Joy Groblebe says
This is such good advice…just be there – sit in it – be present. Great post!
Michele Cushatt says
You are that friend to me. Love you to pieces, JoyJoy.
I too understand people trying to help as I’m also A W W who struggles. As I told my husband I need your help but don’t become my food police. Ive heard the same things. I don’t mess with all the different plans as not all is healthy for me!
I’ve learned to wait and see if they want my 2 cents worth but if we can we just pray.
Thanks for the 3 questions and for reminding me to listen more.
Dinah Woodger says
I’m 68, and all my life I’ve felt a bit inadequate (ok, very) – as I’ve always found relationships difficult, and now this piece shows me a good reason why. I’ve always thought, when someone would start talking about whatever was going wrong in their lives, I really wanted to help, and thought: ‘well at least I can offer my advice’. I honestly thought that surely some grains of help would pass into their lives, and so I could be glad for them, and me, that I was able to give whatever advice I could come up with. So thank you, very much, for explaining why my lifelong, well-intentioned, but so inappropriate, way of relating to the closest people in my life, as well as strangers, was missing the mark. Knowing God’s timing is always at work, and so rather than feel guilt and shame, I feel great relief and thankfulness, and will now so willingly and even joyfully hold my eager tongue, and let God continue amending this mind and heart day by day. How great is our God.
Thanks for sharing Michelle! I lead a small group at my church and I have to remind myself, sometimes after I’ve spoken, to just listen and not try to fix anyone.
Mary Geisen says
All the “yeses” for the truth you share in this post. I am a fixer by nature, an Enneagram 2 ( if you are familiar with that), and my personality screams “mom” in many situations. I just want everyone to be okay and I’m more than willing to help if I can.
It took my adult sons to begin to teach me about unsolicited advice. They gently told me that sometimes they just want me to listen. It can be a hard lesson to learn, but the gift of presence is more valuable than we know.
Thank you for sharing your friend’s story and for the three wise questions that are worth asking before trying to “fix” a situation.
Cindi Bryant says
Love this! What a great lesson you’ve given me!
So now I understand one of the best things I love about my friend, Genia. She is a listener and encourager. When I tell her my struggles, she never jumps in with judgmental advice–just loving acceptance.
Thank you for helping me see how much I want to be there for my friends with your (and Genia’s) attitude!
Sarah Beckman says
Michele, So wise and spot on! I cringe when I read posts like the one you mentioned. and I LOVE THE 3 QUESTIONS! We do need to think before we speak. (and the analogy of would I take them to the bathroom – solid gold!) Love you and your heart to help others love well.
Melissa Baldwin says
Wow. As an Enneagram 2w3, your second question (What’s driving my need to speak? Her need or my need?)… ouch. That is the biggest danger for me personally. It resides in my darkest places. Thank you for allowing yourself to be God’s reminder for me this morning.
Yes, thank God, I have a few friends like this. And I try to be this kind of friend to them. But I have had many cringe worthy moments when I said way too much. My prayer every morning is that I would say less and listen more.
This is a great word and conviction for me. I’m guilty of always offering up advice “fix it” so I don’t have to feel. The scripture that I always quote (paraphrase) is to love God with all your heart and to love others as myself. When all we are require is to love God and others. I pray that I can be more of that friend to you is present and listening. Also, pray for friends in my life to do the same. Great word! Sometimes I feel like I have been so mislead! Pray for leading of the Holy Spirit to guide my mind and heart! To give me heart full of love!
Jolene Underwood says
Fantastic post, Michele! I love the timing on this too as I’ve recently been writing along similar lines. I’ve focused on how we respond to others who are struggling and how to leave space for God to work in the struggle. I’ll be sharing your article with my readers this week. I think they’ll find the content a fantastic continuation of our discussion. These three questions are so helpful! I love the clarity of why those questions make a difference too.
These are good points that you’ve made. When people feel helpless by someone’s grief/issues or pain they tend to want to offer whatever they can. But we aren’t helpless, we can leave it in God’s hands. I too am learning that there’s times when it’s better if I say, I’m sorry I don’t know what to say or I’m sorry I’m not the one that can help.
Thank-you for sharing your thoughts, and for reminding us, it’s okay that we can’t fix what is not in our control no matter how good our intentions are, but we can always lift it to God.
I hope that you all have a blessed day,
Jessica C says
This is just a thought but I’m taking a SHAPE assessment class at my church: learning about spiritual gifts, our personalities, etc and how they all tie together in God’s grand scheme of how He created us and where we fit in His plan. I’ve been learning that each of us is a different personality. I’m a phlegmatic and melancholy type of personality. I would like to gently point out in regards to your post that some personalities do tend to want to “fix” others or offer advice because that’s what their gut reaction: dominant personality does. It’s not always necessarily that they’re not in touch with their feelings. My mom I think is a choleric personality and by nature she tends to try to fix things and offer advice rather than sit with people in their pain. I’m not making excuses for people but it’s an art for those with a take-charge personality to step back sometimes and think before they act. So gently speaking from one sister to another: not all personality types will see your friend the way you do. It’s better to not generalize people because some may not understand if something is a joke, etc. too. Perhaps some people who commented on your friend’s post when she posted the funny stuff didn’t understand that she was being funny? Everyone has and sees the world thru a unique filter, made up of personality, life experiences, etc. It’s better to give people the benefit of the doubt is what I’m trying to say.
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
We need to be like the song the kids song some times. Jesus hands were kinds hands doing good to all healing pain and sickness. Not speaking not judging just listing as Jesus did in that kids song. Listing to our hurting Brother or Sister and putting our arms around them and saying if that person trust you. It is ok. I am here for you. I will listen to you like Jesus did be that friend to you. Plus pray for you. Maybe that is all that person needs. Is to know you are like Jesus in that kids song. There for them. Showing them they are loved and being quited and just listing to them. Love Dawn xxx
Dawn Fergson-Little says
M M thank you for what you wrote it helped me alot also love Dawn xxx
Nancy Gottron says
In my Twelve Step recovery work we say “Unsolicited advice is really criticism.” Difficult for the co dependent who tries to fix everyone when all they can do is fix themselves.
Always good questions to remind myself when I feel so free to offer advice. Personally I felt this struggle when I got chronically sick. I felt like even doctors and people kept saying things trying to fix things. I even was asking for help but not a list of medicines I should try or supplements. Mostly I was asking for patience with my journey. Some friends struggled with my inconsistent health and having to cancel on dear friends and play dates. Some understand others don’t because they don’t understand not because they don’t care. It is when my disease isn’t a visible one everyday or they only see me in the good days.
I think we all suffer with something so very personal and internal. Some of us are brave to post it or tell others. It is trying to decide when to be open and not to be.
Bless your writing.
Willie Pieterse says
I can testify to having such a friend. Over the last 25 years my dear friend Sue and I have jogged the roads together, first as like minded strangers, slowly progressing to become life long buddies. We have used the comfort of a run to get our limbs moving but enjoyed nonstop ‘mouth time’ during our hours running side by ride, sharing raising children and husbands , her cancer and my losses. I’ve enjoyed her support and she mine, admitted advising has happened but more often than not our breaths only last as long as the telling of a concern or problem. I love her dearly!
Becky Keife says
Michele, I’m putting these three questions in my back pocket and asking Jesus to remind me of them often. Oh, that we would all be women who are quick to listen and offer our presence with no advice-giving strings attached. Thank you for all of this. Keep helping us love one another well. xx
Sue Bittfield says
Oh, girl…You are telling the story of my life. Five years old, I was skin and bones. Age six, I was a fat butterball and battled weight ever since. People’s comments were well-intended but only poured salt on the wound. People like me try and try…Frustrates me, too, we don’t dare—and we should not—poke fun at anyone with a disability; however, it is still socially acceptable to make jokes about overweight people and shame us. Our bodies are indeed mysterious. As best I can remember, I worked with 21 doctors, dietitians, weight loss experts, and been on every program out there. I retired from teaching at 55 to focus on my health. Despite working with a dietitian and eating healthy and working out 3 to 4 hours a day with a personal trainer, I was 339 pounds. At age 61, I finally found a Dr. of Nutrition who did a micronutrient test and discovered my body was not processing food properly. Who knew that could happen? All the advice, healthy eating, and exercise couldn’t fix what was broken in my body. She put me on supplements to repair my cells so I could actually process food, and 20 months later, I was 175 pounds. I thank God every day for the devoutly Christian doctor and her mentor who have healed me.