Want to Love Your Friend? Ask Her Questions

HOPE BLANTON|GUEST I have loved questions for as long as I can remember. I was that annoying kid who asked questions during every movie I ever watched, leaving my parents to say over and over, “We are watching the same movie you are, Hope.” Now my love of questions has turned into a career as a therapist and a question writer for our Bible study company. But nowhere have I seen the power of questions more on display than when asked between friends where one is struggling. When we ask suffering people questions, it makes them feel seen. It makes them feel like they’re not alone and tells them we’re willing to step into it with them, even if we don’t know what’s helpful in the moment. We make whatever they’re going through, big or small, important to us. When I’ve brought this up with people they often say, “Well, that’s easy for you to say. You’re a therapist,” or “I don’t even know what to ask,” or “I don’t want to pry or get too personal.” You don’t need a degree in counseling or an extra special ability to put things into words. You just need a desire to understand what someone you love is going through and how you can be present in that with them. How Do We Do It? I once counted how many times Jesus asked a question as I studied a gospel. I was shocked. He asked questions all over the place to the Pharisees, his disciples, and to people coming to him for healing. It was one of the primary tools he used to help people see their own hearts, even though he already knew. But we are not Jesus, and while we mimic him in this way, we do it for different purposes: we do it to help people feel seen and loved and to safeguard against our own hearts. Often, we think we know why someone is suffering or what they need to hear to feel better because we have been through something similar or know someone who has. We launch into advice and skip asking questions. We are so eager to live out this proverb to our suffering friend: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). We think that some wise thought will calm their pain. But how can we do that when we don’t know if the word we are giving them is actually apt or suitable for the circumstances? Then we become a fool who, “takes no pleasure in understanding, but in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2). That is not helpful to our suffering friend. This is where the powerful tool of questions comes into play....

Want to Love Your Friend? Ask Her Questions2022-05-04T23:24:20+00:00

Practice Hospitality

HEATHER MOLENDYK|CONTRIBUTOR PRACTICE is a word worthy of adoration. PRACTICE is a solid, steady friend. The one that shows up day after day to get all the things done. PRACTICE extends a hand of grace and a boost of encouragement. It leaves room for mistakes and allows for another opportunity to do it better. PRACTICE gives the pat on the back and reassuringly says, “You’ll never do it perfectly and that’s okay. Just do your best today!” When PRACTICE made an appearance in the Bible, I admit I was initially surprised. It doesn’t seem like a particularly holy word. I’m used to seeing PRACTICE hang out with friends like PIANO, BASKETBALL, FLASH CARDS, and PARALLEL PARKING. Nonetheless, I happily waved PRACTICE over to sit down and visit for a moment. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans 12:13 (NIV) Sports are a logical thing to practice. There are rules to memorize, cardiovascular gains to make, and muscles to build in order to succeed. Music makes sense to practice. Success with scales, songs, and styles all require the dedication that only practice time can give. Most of us can envision what steps must be taken and what benchmarks must be reached in order to succeed in a variety of life-skills. But hospitality? How do you practice hospitality? In his letters to Titus and Timothy, Paul gives hints on how to build up spiritual disciplines. He tells Timothy to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). He tells Titus to “be a model of good works” and dedicates a large portion of his letter on how the older generations should train up the younger ones through example (Titus 2:7). I began to think through the examples of hospitality I have witnessed in the lives of gracious women God has placed around me....

Practice Hospitality2022-05-04T23:20:01+00:00

Creating Community

ELIZABETH SANTELMANN|GUEST This evening I was sitting alone in the dark, rocking back and forth. The baby wouldn’t settle, and I started thinking about how many hours I had sat in that chair, rocking alone. I wondered how many of the other young mothers were also around the world rocking back and forth—all of us separated but joined in the community of the rocking chair. I receive many messages on Instagram from moms everywhere longing for friendship. From moms who feel lonely. From moms who long for connection with others. Why does community seem so hard and overwhelming to find as adults? Why is there not more practical advice on how we can build adult relationships? The messages I received from other moms revealed we sort ourselves into two camps: Women who are longing for friendship, but don’t even know where to start. Women who have walked alone so long they don’t even realize they need other women beside them. These women often claim all they need are their families. However, the Bible teaches that we are created to have community with one another. We are created in the image of God and reflect His character. If we had been created in the image of a solitary God, then claiming to not need friends would make sense; however, we are created in the image of a triune God. Our God, in His essence, represents community! This means, we image Him when we are in relationship with others.   This means, we weren’t crafted to just observe the lives of others on social media, read the stories of others in books, and learn about motherhood from magazines. We were created to learn from one another; hear and grow through the stories and lives of others; and live in a physical way with the body of Christ in our communities.  We Need Community When we isolate ourselves, it is easy to think we are alone in our struggles, rather than realizing the verse “There is no temptation that has over taken you, except that which is common to man” is true for all of us. It also opens us to comparison to people who are not real. Or we can get so stuck in our head with all we’ve learned, that we lose compassion for real people with real stories! When I was first married, I had just moved to a new city, and finding community was hard. I was very discouraged. My husband challenged me to pray that I would find a friend. I wish I could say I responded gratefully to his wisdom, but instead I yelled, “It doesn’t work that way!!!” But I did pray, and just weeks later, I found someone who has now been a friend nearly 10 years....

Creating Community2022-05-04T23:20:28+00:00

Moving Towards People with Autism in Faithful Friendship

STEPHANIE HUBACH|CONTRIBUTOR Have you ever had a friendship that started out, at first, on the worst possible footing—and yet, somehow—it grew anyway? I have an autistic friend who can testify that is exactly how our relationship lurched forward. When we first met, while I was leading a national disability ministry, my “wheelhouse” was primarily in the area of intellectual disability. At that time, I did not have any close personal connections with adults who have “high functioning autism” (a misnomer in and of itself). Lori was the first woman I had ever encountered who carried this descriptor. We met in 2013 at our denomination’s annual General Assembly. While working the booth for our ministry, Lori circled by several times and then finally came up and talked to me for a bit. She mentioned that she had a son with autism. I’d had those conversations with lots of folks before. Then she said, “I have autism too.” Now she had my attention. Unhelpful Responses When “typical” folks meet people with disabilities, we can often fall into one of three categories of unhelpful responses: condescension, complacency, or consumerism. In my experience, the most common response is one of condescension—a revealing of our own biases of superiority towards people with differing abilities whom we presume to be inferior to us. It’s an ugly disclosure when it happens. And it happens frequently. Condescension says much more about us and our distorted views of ourselves than it says about people with disabilities. The second category is complacency. Complacency is indifferent to the difficulties associated with disability and deeply rooted in our postmodern cultural context. Complacency can mask as acceptance—but it refuses to acknowledge (or feel any responsibility toward) the ways that some degree of suffering always accompanies disability in how the body works differently than we expect it to. For people with autism, the differences in neurological functioning create very challenging sensory, communication, relational, and executive functioning hurdles. When we are complacent or indifferent toward those realities, we communicate to people with autism that we expect them to bear these challenges in silence. The third trap is a consumer mindset—one that sees the person with autism, in this case, as a commodity. Wow—you inspire me. Wow—you’re not what I expected. Wow—you could be really useful to me. I fell into this latter pitfall in my first encounter with Lori. Acknowledging that I did not know nearly as much about autism as I really needed to, I was thrilled to meet someone who was not only a parent of a child with autism but also autistic herself. What a gold mine! That’s when the unfiltered speech started on my part. “Will you be my (ministry’s) Temple Grandin?” Yes. I actually said that. I know. It’s mortifying for me even now, just to type it, let alone acknowledge that I blurted it out. (In case you don’t know who Temple Grandin is, she is a woman with autism who is a world-renowned speaker on the subject and also a brilliant, accomplished researcher in the topic area of animal husbandry.) What I Am Still Learning I thought it might be helpful to share a few things I’ve learned (and am still learning) along the way about becoming friends with someone who is autistic. I’ve asked Lori to interact with me on this post as well, so this post is only Part 1 of 2, as Lori’s voice in this conversation is, of course, crucial. In my experience, I think those of us who would describe our interactions with the world around us as “neurotypical” will benefit from recognizing that we subconsciously settle into several things in our friendships, without even being aware of them. “Easy” neurotypical friendships are often based on commonality, comfort, competence, and conformity. We find it easiest to relate to those with whom we share things in common, whose presence doesn’t require us to be uncomfortable in any way, where our knowledge of the world and how it works feels competent, and where there is some mutually agreed upon level of conformity. Christ-like relationships, on the other hand, are not focused on “ease” but on “intentionality.”...

Moving Towards People with Autism in Faithful Friendship2022-05-04T23:12:27+00:00

Jesus Mercifully Listens to Us

ELLEN DYKAS|CONTRIBUTOR And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42–43) She caught me. A close friend called me out when in the middle of a face-to-face conversation, I was distracted by a notification that popped up on the screen of my smartphone. In a second, I exited my real-time conversation with her and turned to my phone. Effectively, I turned away from my friend, closing my ears to her, and listened to the voice of my phone. Ugh. I’ve selfishly done this to people more often than I want to admit. I’ve also been the recipient of distracted listening and know how it feels. What?! I’m not as important as your device’s notifications? What’s so interesting out the window that you can’t stay focused on our conversation? Listening without distraction is a powerful way to love someone and we can learn so much from a scene we remember every Easter. Jesus’s brief conversation with the criminal on the cross elevates the power of loving listening. As he hung on the cross, bloodied and separated from God, Jesus showed mercy to a hurting sinner. He listened attentively to this man’s request, offered words that proved he was listening well, and gave a dying man the hope of eternal companionship with God...

Jesus Mercifully Listens to Us2022-05-04T23:13:38+00:00

The Wise Asked to Be

Over the course of two short days, four friends shared extra hard things with me. I wanted to help—I wanted to relieve their burden, share their trouble, or offer something that could ease their pain. But I was at a loss as to how to respond practically. The usual offering of, “Oh, I’ll pray,” felt trite, almost as if I was brushing off their hardship. I wanted a meaty offering, filling as a pot roast delivered straight to the front porch of my hurting friends’ souls. And moreover, I wanted God to show up tangibly—for him to show himself as the one who shopped for the roast, cooked it to perfection, and delivered it right to their doorstep—the Ultimate Provider for hurting souls. I don’t rest easy in the spot of not knowing what to do, so I began to do what I often do, which is ask God how to pray. It wasn’t long before I found the Lord leading me to pray in the same way for all four friends—and that was to ask him for wisdom. The circumstances hardly seemed coincidental, and God’s leading made me curious—beyond the passages that are quick to spring to memory, where in Scripture are we told to pray for wisdom? Why does God want us to pray for it? And what does it do for us to ask for it? The Where’s of Wisdom James 1:5 is the likely first passage that comes to mind—the promise that God will give wisdom generously and without judgment to all who ask...

The Wise Asked to Be2022-05-04T23:57:45+00:00

Covenant Friendship

On this day he looked more like a man than a boy. The gore of war had spattered and stained his person. Adrenaline laced fingers intwined themselves in the trophy’s scalp – a bodiless head swinging slack-jawed before the king’s throne.[1] David presented the head of the giant to King Saul. The king grunted his approval. The palace court humbled itself into silence. No warrior had been found to stand for Israel against the blasphemous enemy – none but a young shepherd with his sling shot and an unwavering faith in Yahweh. From the corner of the room, King Saul’s son, Jonathan, watched and listened. “Whose son are you, young man?” the king inquired. Bowing his head, David replied, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.” At that moment Jonathan’s heart swelled with affection. A love that only the power of Yahweh could provide burned within the young prince. Jonathan saw beyond the simple clothing and the country accent. He saw a brother in the Lord and a friendship that would endure for a lifetime. If David could slay a seasoned warrior with a smooth river rock, what could he do with the proper equipment? Pulling the young shepherd aside, Jonathan began to disrobe the finery he was born into. The opportunity to outfit a new hero would not be lost to the prince. Jonathan saw potential. He would play his part in shooting this champion to stardom! Over David’s rough, wool tunic a royal robe was draped, and a fine belt was strapped. David’s heroic heart was protected by princely armor. A well-balanced sword and a finely strung bow completed the arsenal in the shepherd’s hands. Jonathan gave David a royal outfitting. He gave his beloved friend power, protection, and a new identity. David was a more than a man when he hit the return road home. He was a celebrity. From every city, clogging every road, women surged forward with instruments and voice. Colorful skirts twirled in delight. Eyes sparkled with victory. Bracelets jingled on dainty wrists to the beat of the tambourines. The contagious smiles reenergized David on this day that was for him. This day the women celebrated and sang:               Saul has struck down his thousands,               and David his ten thousands.  The Blessing of Godly Friendships God unites people together for all sorts of reasons. He places encouragers to lift us up when we’ve hit a low point. He rallies champions when we’ve lost the power to fight another minute. He brings admonishers and counselors to guide us through sticky decisions. He gifts us lovers and friends to sweeten our days with laughter and joy. Godly friends are easily identified by their actions...

Covenant Friendship2022-05-05T00:02:08+00:00

Five Ways Women’s Ministries Can Care for Victims of Domestic Violence

Most likely, around 25% of the women attending your church are victims of domestic abuse.[1] When you see that number, is your first thought disbelief? Mine certainly was, and I am what some would call an expert in this area. But in ministering to the women in my church, I have sadly witnessed its truth firsthand. We struggle to believe that domestic abuse is in our churches for three main reasons. First, abuse is a hidden reality. It happens behind closed doors. The sinful tactics used by an abusive husband are inconceivable, in part because abusers strive to keep their deeds hidden in darkness (John 3:20). Second, abused women often do not identify as victims; they feel responsible for their oppression. Most women come to me for counseling about something else, such as anxiety, depression, or guilt. Oppressors confuse their victims to control them; a common by-product of sin is “disorder” (James 3:16). Victims often do not possess the clarity required to conceptualize what they are enduring is abuse. Third, we struggle to identify abuse because the oppressor usually attends our church. We have talked and prayed with him. We think we know him. In reality, we only see how he presents his public face. At home, oppressors are very different people. Even though Scripture warns us about deceivers (2 Timothy 3:13), we struggle to identify them among the people we think we know. Although we often are not aware of abuse, the Lord sees victims and is active in their rescue (Luke 4:18–19). I also believe that God calls us to join him in their rescue. Below are five ways the women’s ministry in your church could help identify and care for the sufferers in your midst...

Five Ways Women’s Ministries Can Care for Victims of Domestic Violence2022-05-05T00:03:55+00:00

How the Church Can Encourage Front Line Workers

COVID-19 placed a drain on medical personnel we nurses didn’t see coming. We’ve managed infectious diseases before, handled cumbersome PPE, and even ventured into uncharted waters with a diagnosis we weren’t sure how to handle. But I must admit, the Monday morning when the COVID numbers at my hospital unit jumped into the double digits, and doubled again by the end of the week, pandemic seemed an appropriate word. I placed a call to my pregnant daughter, Anna, and told her that until I was no longer caring for these patients, it would be safest if I did not see them. My two-year-old granddaughter didn’t understand why she couldn’t go to Grandma’s. On my way into work one morning a woman stopped me. “Can you get a message to my husband? I can’t go in, can I?” The eighty-something woman gripped her walker and seemed frantic. I recorded her message on my cell phone and left her on a nearby bench. Outside her husband’s hospital room, I grabbed a gown, shoe coverings, hair net, mask and face shield, and gloves. I put my cell phone in a clear plastic bag and prayed it wouldn’t obscure the picture too much. Her husband listened to the message as tears streamed down his face. He mouthed a thank-you through his nonrebreather. I couldn’t do all the usual satisfying nurse things like hold his hand or give him a hug. Neither could I offer that to his wife. It felt so pathetic, holding up a cell phone in a plastic bag, hoping he could see her, hear her. Afterwards, I tramped back downstairs brushing past a coworker who asked if I was ok. I nodded a yes, but I meant no. Outside, that sweet wife was waiting. At least I could tell her he heard her voice and seemed to know it was her. I swallowed hard, wrote my cell number down on a piece of paper and handed it to her. “Anytime you need to get a message to your husband, you call me. Anytime, ma’am. I will meet you here.”

How the Church Can Encourage Front Line Workers2022-05-05T00:04:37+00:00

You’ve Got a Friend in Me: Helping Victims of Domestic Violence

Nora[1] chuckled, but laughing didn’t stop her from crying. Her friend, Allie, had a knack for soothing awkward situations. She knew just what to say to lighten the mood. Nora knew Allie wasn’t uncomfortable; teasing was just her way to ease tension. Nora dabbed at her tears with a napkin and looked for the waitress, “I should go,” she said, “Rob will be home soon and he’ll wonder where I’ve been all afternoon.” The two women had agreed on this lunch date weeks ago. Nora had no idea her husband’s explosive outburst the night before would shadow their pleasant afternoon. His timing to hurl some rather choice insults—laden with words she would never repeat—was impeccable. His disgusting taunts still echoed in Nora’s mind. The shame of it all made her cry. Allie was a friend Nora could lean on. Sometimes she advised her in the worst way… “Nora, if you would just…” and then tell her to do something that implied she had control over Rob’s oppressive behavior. But nonetheless, Allie’s love for Nora was genuine. Women like Nora need friends like Allie. The circumstances of their abusive relationship are isolating. It keeps them at arm’s length from other people. To have a friend who respects them as an image bearer is invaluable. I’ve heard many victims express this need. If oppressed women could share how we can help, this is what they might say: Please, treat me like an adult. One characteristic of an abusive home is that the husband treats his wife like a child. In an oppressive marriage, he calls the shots and determines direction. He’s the king of his castle and his wife is there to serve his every desire. A woman in this kind of relationship loses agency; her God-given right to make her own decisions. Eventually, if she remains in the marriage long enough, she forgets how to make choices on her own. Everyone will stand before the Lord one day...

You’ve Got a Friend in Me: Helping Victims of Domestic Violence2022-05-05T00:06:23+00:00
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