Imagine this. A friend calls you upset and in need of help. She invites you to her house—something she's never done in the many years you've known her.
You pull up to the quaint house with a nicely manicured lawn, you walk to the front door, and ring the door bell. Within a few moments your friend answers. Her face is red and splotchy. It's clear she's been crying.
As you step into her house you immediately notice how dark and smelly it is. All the shades are drawn and a single lamp lights her large living room. Mildew and dust mix in the air and flood your nostrils with stench. Once your eyes adjust you notice piles of books, newspapers, and magazines stacked up along each wall. The end table near the couch is covered with used tissues. A bowl of moldy food sits on the floor.
What stirs up inside you?
Are you completely disgusted, ready to run out the door? Are you ready to get to work, helping your friend clean her home? Are you angry that she's kept this secret from you? Do you feel claustrophobic, eager to throw open the shades and windows to let in some sunlight? Are you filled with compassion for your friend, wondering what could have led to her home becoming like an episode of Hoarders?
Although none of these responses are necessarily bad, they do reveal what's happening in your heart. And God's been teaching me lately how important it is to be aware of what's happening there—especially when I'm trying to help others.
I'm currently taking a class called Care and Counsel. The course's aim is to help non-counselors learn critical aspects of counseling so they can better care for friends and those they minister to. It's been an eye-opening, practical course. And of all the tips and thought-provoking questions, the number one thing I've learned is how important it is to be aware of my own stuff, my own mental baggage.
If I truly want to be there for my friends, helping them grow closer to God, I have to be aware of my initial reactions and assumptions that may do just the opposite: hinder their relationship with God.
For instance, I've had many negative experiences with people who act in a passive aggressive way. Now when I get even a whiff of that attitude, I immediately become angry. The thing is, if I'm angry, it's hard for me to get past that person's attitude or actions to see the root of the problem and to compassionately attend to that person's needs.
When I'm aware of my own stuff, it allows me to deal with it better in the moment. It allows me to truly focus on the person before me—even to respond rationally when someone is passive aggressive. Even more, though, it brings me before God. It convicts me to acknowledge my anger and ask for his healing. It invites me to forgive again those who have hurt me. It calls me to ask God to help me see people the way he sees them. It allows me not to pass on my own hurt to others.
But that means I have to be in tune with my stuff—my failings, my shortcomings, my brokenness. And that's not something I feel comfortable sitting with. It's much easier to walk through life pointing out everyone else's stuff and ignoring my own. Sounds a lot like Jesus' words in Matthew 7:3–5: "Why worry about a speck in your friend's eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, 'Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,' when you can't see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye."
What has struck me through taking this class isn't just the conviction that Jesus wants me to deal with my stuff, but that I can't effectively help others if I haven't. In fact, if I try to help someone else without being aware of my own stuff and what it's stirring up within me, I can do a lot of damage.
If a friend confesses a sin to me that stirs up a load of anger because of my past experiences, I'm probably not going to be able to help my friend without my own feelings getting in the way. I'll give bad advice (based on my negative experiences), I'll show little grace, and I'll struggle with trusting this friend again.
It's only after I've brought those feelings and past experiences to God, allowing him to heal my heart, that I'll be able truly to be there for my friend. (And honestly, I might not be able to be there for her at this time because I need time to heal . . . and that's part of knowing my stuff, too.)
So I'm intentionally laying myself before God, asking him to point out the hurts and brokenness in my life so we can deal with them together. And I'm trying to be aware of what stirs up within me as I walk through my day. My prayer is that through this increasing self-knowledge I'll better be able to do God's will and support my Christian brothers and sisters.
How aware are you of your own stuff? When has your own brokenness clouded your judgment or hindered your ability to minister to a friend?