When People Who are Hurting Need One MORE Question
August 31, 2017 by Sheree Phillips 0 comments
Button Four: Ask One More Question
Editor's Note: This is part four of a five-part series on how to care for hurting people.
We're talking about buttons, and how when we're buttoning a shirt or blouse we have to get that first button into the first hole or we're going to end up with a crooked garment. Having to undo all the buttons that got skewed because we didn't get started right is a nusiance. But realizing our interaction with a hurting, suffering person got off to the wrong start is something totally different. And believe me, I know what that's like.
I knew Shelly's discovery of porn on her son's computer was devastating. She and Todd thought they had all the safeguards taken care of to protect him, but somehow Nick had found a way. Listening to her was like sitting under a waterfall of fear, shame, tormenting mental pictures of what her pre-teen son had been viewing, and sadness. As she poured out her heart I sought to listen and empathize. Then I did something I had done numerous times prior. I thought I knew what would help, and that was to share something about God I had learned in various mothering trials throughout my decades of parenting: God really does use the darkest and worst times to connect us more deeply with Him. I hoped these words would trickle from my mouth to her heart and bring her peace.
I saw it on her face. Her eyes dropped. The words I thought could bring hope brought a cloud instead.
"Oh, Shelly, what did I just do? How did those words impact you?" I fumbled.
Shelly is a sweet and godly woman so her first response was characteristically unselfish."I'm fine, really. But if I'm honest, I'm just not ready to think about the good that's going to come from my son looking at naked women."
That day (and many other days leading up to it in many other conversations) I learned an important forth button that needs attention when caring for hurting people: Ask one more question. Even when we think we asked questions and listened enough to understand a person's pain, grief, perplexity, humiliation or sorrow, often what they need most to be even better understood.
In my counseling training with CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation) these phrases have been repeated again and again to the point that they often ring in my ears when I'm talking to people:
- Questions keep the focus on the other person, not on yourself.
- Ask one more question, then ask one more.
- When you don't know what to ask, say "Tell me more."
- Ask "Is there anything else you'd like to say about that?"
- When you feel uneasy or don't know what to say, just admit it. Saying, "I'm so affected by what you're saying that I'm not sure what to ask right now." Then wait for your mind to clear enough to ask another question.
- Keep asking questions until you know how to pray for him or her.
I eagerly wanted to help Shelly. I had experienced God's help through so many motherhood heartaches, I just knew my journey would help her. But I made a mistake: I focused on the outcome of my journey rather than on the journey itself.
My journey from learning that my child had deceived us or covered sin to insure they could keep doing it took time. Benny's and my marriage struggles, deep and dark at times, sometimes took months or years to process well. Pain and shame over things done to or by those I love took weary month after month to walk through. And it honestly took years to effectively work through the angst and heartache of the attitudes and actions of others when my family most needed patience and compassion.
My heart to help Shelly wasn't the issue, but my quickness to assume what helped me would help her...now...was. What she needed most that day wasn't assurances I came to after being met by God through a lenghty process. She needed to experience God Himself each and every step of the way until she was able to articulate what she learned from Him.
I'm not suggesting it's never helpful to tell people what we learned with and about God during times of suffering or struggle. But the best time to pass on that information is when the question comes our way: "Hey, what have you learned about God that might help me?" Oh, the sweet fellowship that can come when people sit together and rehearse the glorious grace, presence and comfort of God through suffering! But until a hurting person has been brought to that spot by God and is ready to engage in His sanctifying work, what they often most need is another question that communicates, "I'm still listening. I'm still here for you." Assuming God is teaching that person just what He was teaching us, and then communicating that truth to them prematurely, can make them feel rushed to the end of the road when they're still on the journey.
Now when I feel that urge to share with people things God taught me through my dark times I try to remember to stop and remind myself that it's not my responsibility to teach them. That's the job of the Spirit of Christ Himself. Yes, we want to speak into people's pain and suffering. Yes, there is a place for drawing hurting people's attention to a faithful, present and good God who will bring light out of their darkness. But often the time to do that is after asking one more question.