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

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Can Also Hurt Me

KATIE POLSKI|CONTRIBUTOR In first grade, there was a girl in my class who told me that my eyes looked like goldfish. For the love of fish.   I’m still not quite sure what that meant, but I do know that I spent too much time starring at myself in the mirror due to a concern over my fish-like eyeballs. In Highschool, a boy told me I was “pretty cool,” but he tagged that with: “It’s just that guys aren’t going to date a pastor’s daughter.”   And so, I kept that aspect of my identity a secret for as long as I could, coming up with alternative ways to explain my father’s profession.  In college, after playing piano for a chapel service, a student remarked that I swayed a lot when playing. “It looks funny.” I told him he looked funny. It was, admittedly, a terrible comeback and didn’t help my cause at all. But for years, I was conscious of my “movements” while playing at the piano. The Significance of Our Words Words don’t just disappear. At times I wish they did, but from the moment they leave our mouth, they often make their way into the small crevasses of a hearer’s memory and nestle in, sometimes remaining for a lifetime. If our words have this kind of impact, it’s essential that as believers we use them wisely. God certainly intended for us to speak; we’re created in His image, and He is a speaking God giving the world His inspired words for our benefit. But we’re sinners, trudging through a broken world. Every one of us has messed up with our words, and we will likely do damage with them again. God in His graciousness forgives fully and completely, but that doesn’t mean that what we say won’t have a lasting impact. It’s only wise, then, that as believers we give careful consideration to what the Bible has to say about the words we speak. Our Words Reveal the Condition of our Heart “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matt. 12:34-35). These two verses are incredibly convicting. Our spiritual condition is made manifest by our words. This doesn’t mean, believer, that your unthoughtful or unkind words are unforgiveable. What it does mean is that we have a responsibility before God to consider the reasons underlying our harsh or rash words...   

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Can Also Hurt Me2022-05-04T23:24:56+00:00

We Agree, Right?

HOLLY MACKLE|CONTRIBUTOR I’ve noticed a curious trend lately: in conversations with acquaintances or strangers I realize my conversation partner presumes I believe the same way they do on a given topic. Sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, whether the topic is politics, pandemic, or Pandora stations—it just keeps happening. This presumption often feels like some funny math on their part. You’re an educated, thoughtful sort of person who is also walking with God. Therefore, you must believe the way I do. In my former life as a high school Spanish teacher, my students and I would discuss a common conversational quirk known as a tag question. These simplistic, formulaic interrogatives are commonly tacked onto a statement and invite agreement. In Spanish, it’s often ¿no? As in, right? Turns out a similar accompaniment frequents British English and German. Ah, a habit common to human experience. Becoming alert to my own tag question tic has led me to realize how frequently and subtly I presume agreement, and unwittingly cast a pallor of condescension on anyone who may have disagreed with my college girl diatribes on unconditional election or my modern day assertions on the gospel according to Ted Lasso. As believers in Jesus longing for the redemption of every area of life, what alternative does Christ offer for this kind of presumption? The answer may be unexpected: curiosity. When we remember curiosity we invite the correct power orientation between ourselves and God, which puts us in the best possible headspace for interacting with others in a God-honoring way...

We Agree, Right?2022-05-04T23:26:20+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

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

Practical Preparation for One Another Care

Editor’s Note: This is the third post in a series of posts on one another care in the church. To read the other posts, click here. Most mornings you can find me curled up in the corner of my couch reading Scripture. Now, I’d love for you to think that makes me super virtuous; however, I must confess I read the news and social media first. I’m still working on my priorities. I digress. Daily “demotions” (as I like to call them) are one of my favorite times of the day. God speaks to me through His word and I discover something new about Him and His world just about every time. I can’t tell you how often God then uses those quiet moments with Him to equip me to minister to others. Frequently I find that the very words He applied to my soul in the morning help in a conversation with a friend or counselee later in the day. He does that. His words are our daily nourishment; however, they are also meant for us to use to sustain one another (Col. 3:16). This is just one of several ways we can prepare in advance of sharing the word with someone who is struggling. This means we need to pay attention to how God meets us with His word. Another way is to build a counseling toolkit. A toolkit can be made up of sermons, devotionals, and/or Bible Study materials adapted for use in counsel. For instance, what was the last sermon you heard? What were your pastor’s three main points? How did he apply them? What was the main take away from your last Bible study? Create a journal with these messages and record the insights you’ve gleaned...

Practical Preparation for One Another Care2022-05-05T00:35:58+00:00
Go to Top