I used to be a reckless unsolicited advice-giver. I had no problem telling everyone how I thought they should be living their lives better (even though mine was a complete shambles relationally and emotionally for a couple of decades there).
But then I found my way to the rooms of AlAnon (thank you, sweet Jesus) where I learned that the best way to help someone is to only offer gentle suggestions IF THEY ASK, otherwise to simply try to live your own life well and keep your side of the street clean as an example.
This was a radical shift for me, but one I was grateful to learn. (Funny how you tick off less people when you’re not criticizing them about their lives or telling them what to do all the time!)
But I am in a position – in mentoring, as a writer, in friendships, as a mother, as a small group leader, as a woman who used to be in a very hard marriage, as a woman who has walked through divorce, as a woman who was a single mother, as a woman who tried dating in her 40s, as a woman who is now remarried, as a middle-aged Titus 2 woman (I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit) – where I am asked my advice, often.
Even though I’m being asked, I don’t always give it. I typically like to make sure I actually know the person in real life before giving specific advice to their specific situations, and it helps if I’ve been through something similar.
But sometimes, if asked and if I’ve been there, I do dole out my thoughts.
Someone recently asked for my advice. I gave it, at first hesitantly, then thoughtfully, prayerfully, and gently but clearly and firmly.
I was thanked for it. The person agreed with me.
But the advice was not taken.
That is 1000% the person’s prerogative. I hold nothing against this person. Seriously. (I ask for advice all the time, and I don’t always take it. It’s called being a human being with free will and a thinking mind of our own and some stubbornness thrown in.) Mike Foster says, “I don’t own the results of anyone else’s life.” Thank, God. That frees me up tremendously.
However, I then had a choice to make: stay engaged with the possibility of becoming resentful as I watched things play out potentially chaotically, or step back emotionally.
For my own sanity, I chose to step back.
Now, this doesn’t mean I stopped praying. Not in the least. In fact, I probably actually upped my praying after the decision was made to go another way with things.
But what this does mean, for me, is this:
I am not going to ask how things are going anymore. If information is offered, however, I will listen. But I will not ask.
I am not going to offer suggestions anymore. I was as clear as an October sky how I feel about this situation. I do not need to repeat myself, especially as my advice was not heeded and I don’t expect any of my suggestions to change.
I am not going to insert myself anymore. I will remind myself over and over if I have to that this is not about me.
My love will remain unconditional. My help cannot. I could fully support what I had suggested. I cannot support what is being done – or not done – instead. So I am – in my own ways – going to love fully (through prayer and quiet support) and I am also not going to help (through money and mind-obsession and consequence-cushioning).
This will not be easy. I have already gotten flack. But that’s okay.
Not everyone would agree with me. Some would point to the father’s response to the prodigal son, how he ran to him, before the son even apologized. But I keep coming back to the fact that the father didn’t go after him in the first place…he let him make his every mistake, he let him end up feeding the pigs and longing for their food. He ran to him after the son came back home to him, after he ‘came to his senses’. To me, that is loving wisely and well.
So, this is between me and Jesus, and I feel I am doing what is best in this situation. Even if it is hard and even if some don’t agree.
So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. –Philippians 1:9-10 (Msg)