Are you looking for the perfect way to discourage a weary friend and increase your chances that they will not want to return to you for help? If so, this list is for you:
1. Make the conversation about you.
This can be accomplished through one easy step. When they come to you, respond to their concerns by immediately sharing your own set of hard circumstances. Surely you can find a way to one-up them.
2. Minimize their problem.
Continuing to keep the focus on yourself, remind them of all the ways you are facing more difficult challenges than they are. Tell them that it could be SO much worse, and they simply need to think about how good they have it compared to you, or possibly people with cancer, starving children, or tortured POWs.
3. Grant yourself authority over their life.
Tell them you know exactly what they are going through, and tell them exactly what they need to do to fix it. Be sure to tell them that your solution is the only way they will be able to overcome their problem. If they try to offer their own suggestions, give them a critical look and tell them it is probably not the best idea.
4. Feel free to pass judgement and gossip about them.
This step will really help boost your pride and sense of importance. Pat yourself on the back for being such a helpful & wise friend while feeling pity for your friend and her silly problems. Talk about this person later with a group of friends, and be sure to roll your eyes as you revisit your opinion on how easy the weary friend has it.
Include all of the above approaches in response to your next counseling opportunity, and you’ll be increasing weariness and self-doubt in no time!
Seeking to change your approach?
Perhaps you are more interested in encouraging the weary? Maybe you have already tried the above approaches and learned that they are not as helpful as you had hoped? Or have you been counseled by someone who uses these options and you have felt the discouragement first-hand?
If you are looking to provide encouragement to your troubled friends, consider these helpful alternatives:
1. Maintain focus on your friend.
Ask a lot of questions. Let them do most of the talking. Explore the issue they are facing as fully as possible by trying to learn what exactly has happened, how it has impacted their life, what heart desires are at the root of their feelings. Refrain from talking about yourself and your own problems unless they are directly related to the issue at hand.
2. Instead of minimizing, gently normalize their problem.
As your friend continues to share her heart with you and be vulnerable, it is helpful to take opportunities to normalize what she is going through. To normalize her problem is to simply reassure her in small ways that she is not alone in her struggle, and you are sure that others have had similar experiences. You may just remind her that you are just as sinful as she is and have no room to judge in those moments when you see she is ashamed of what she has done.
Sometimes all you need to do in order to normalize is maintain receptive facial expressions, use active listening, and refrain from appearing shocked or alarmed by what they share.
Normalizing does not involve any form of comparison with another’s problem, and it certainly shouldn’t communicate that she has done nothing wrong. Instead, it provides reassurance to your friend that you don’t think she is completely crazy, she is not the only one to ever experience her problem, and there is hope that things will improve.
3. Let the Bible have authority.
When a friend comes to you for counsel, it can be easy to believe that they expect you to have the answers to their problems. They may even tell you that they are hoping you can fix their problem. As tempting as it may be to claim authority in these situations, it is best to refrain from giving specific instructions.
Instead, be sure to point them to Scripture that can help them better understand what God may want them to do in their situation. Encourage them to make their own conclusions, and carefully redirect them if their suggestions fall off course with God’s Word. If there is a need for repentance that they are not acknowledging, it may be necessary to gently rebuke them by sharing relevant Scripture. You may also need to help them understand the value of repentance and forgiveness for sin.
Remember that in most circumstances, there is no right answer when it comes to practical solutions. Your friend might find that what is best for her does not look exactly like what would be best for you if you were in her shoes. As long as she is staying obedient to Scripture, it is better for her to do what works best for her rather than follow someone else’s formula.
4. Guard their privacy.
It is important that you assure your friend that your conversation will remain confidential. It is a frightening thing to be vulnerable with another person and may have taken this person a great deal of courage to share their feelings with you. Be respectful of their privacy by refraining from opportunities to talk about them with others.
Unless it is a matter of safety, such as suicidal threats or a desire to harm another person, there is no reason to share your conversation with others. In cases where you find it necessary to tell someone, ask for permission, include her in the third-party conversation, or simply let her know that you feel it is necessary to report her problem to a higher authority.
In addition to these valuable parts of helpful counsel and encouragement, also be sure to:
Follow up your conversation within a week, and plan to repeat follow-up as needed. See how they are doing, what God has been teaching them, and what has gotten better. Continue to pray for them, and let them know you are doing so. These are small gestures that can make a huge difference in a person’s life!
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