This year has had some rough patches. One of my friends is battling Leukemia again. A few friends are wrestling with addictions of various kinds. Some people are struggling with depression or PTSD. Others have been un- or under-employed for a long time. I’ve lost track of how many marriages are in tumult. And don’t get me started on Haiti or Chile. It’s been pretty grueling.
There’s nothing more sobering then someone who tells you the real gunk that’s going on in their life. Everyone has their gunk. My gunk always feels small when I hear about other people’s. The hardest part for me, as a listener, is knowing what to say.
“Call me if you need anything”?
“God’s doing something here – it’ll all work out for your good and his glory”?
It seems like I never have the right words at the right time. It’s awkward.
I pick up a book this week that’s been on my “I ought to read this” list for a while. It’s by Larry Crabb – a wise and humble Christian psychologist. I read his book Inside Out in college and it tore me apart with it’s profound understanding of my own sinful heart. I could barely even finish it, but it’s one of the best books I ever read. This one is called Connecting, and the basic premise is that much of the work done by professional counselors could – and should – be done by friends. In the first few chapters he lays out the idea that Connecting is more than giving insight, advice, or empathy. Connecting is an event wherein the Holy Spirit brings about healing and conviction. I’m nowhere near done the book yet, but it’s already been both encouraging and challenging to me. Not just in crisis mode, but in all kinds of everyday interactions.
Simple reminders like “see people as Christ does – with delight in their uniqueness and hope for their future” are huge for me. I don’t tend to see people that way, and thus my words tend to be far from encouraging. Or “remember that you and your brothers in Christ have been given new hearts with new desires that need to be nurtured and drawn out.” I’m big on remembering how sinful people are, but don’t spend much time with the doctrine of regeneration – remembering that our deepest desires, given to us by the Spirit, are good. In conflict with our old nature, to be sure, but there’s good nonetheless. Wow. If I remembered that and practiced speaking as if I believed it, then perhaps when the crisis conversations come I wouldn’t have to worry about what to say. Speaking words of love and encouragement might be natural.
Like I said, I’m not done with it yet, but it’s worth the price of admission for the first three chapters alone. I can’t wait to find out what else is there.