When someone is struggling with an ongoing habitual behavior, many of us can be quick to give advice. Ironically, this usually makes things worse. Here’s why…
Advice is great when it’s given by a qualified person, at the right time, and in the right way. In contrast, here are three times advice can backfire:
- When you’re uncomfortable. Often, we give advice when we’re uncomfortable with the other person’s pain. It hurts to hear that a friend continues to struggle, especially when it is damaging other relationships. Without realizing it, we may offer advice as a form of self-protection. It’s not really about helping the other person but about giving us a sense that we have some control of the situation, when the truth is we don’t. In the end, our friends sense our discomfort and will pull away.
Jesus is not uncomfortable and His Spirit can comfort you and your friend. Instead of jumping first into giving advice, if you can seek to simply be present with your friend in their pain, you’ll be giving them an invaluable gift.
- When we don’t know what to do. This one almost sounds like I’m kidding, but I’m not. When we feel at a loss as to how to bring about change in a friend’s life, giving advice at least makes us feel like we’re doing something. Like #1 above, it provides a momentary sense of control or power that we don’t actually have.
This backfires for obvious reasons, not least of which is that when you don’t understand the depth and scope of a problem—let alone how to help with it—you’re only going to be able to give penny-sized advice for dollar-sized problems. In the end, this is likely only to increase your friend’s sense of futility and failure, leaving her more hopeless than before.
Instead of advice, you might simply say, “I wish I knew how to help, but I really don’t. I can only imagine how difficult this has been for you. Let’s go to God together and also seek out someone who may know what to do.” In this way, you validate the other person’s experience, and help her not to feel alone anymore.
- When the other person is experiencing shame. Shame as I mean it here is a persistent and deep sense that “I am uniquely and chronically flawed.” It tells a person he or she is dirty, defective, or unlovable not only because of what he’s done, but also simply because of who he is. In addition, this kind of shame works as a screen that twists what others say and do into negative and shaming messages. So when you think you’re just offering a little friendly advice, your friend is hearing something like, “See? Everyone can handle this except you.” And again, if you give advice your friend has already tried, shame translates it, “That solution works for normal people, but not for someone as flawed as you.”
In my experience, shame is such a present force for those engaged in habitual sexual behaviors that it would be wise to simply assume shame is present with your friend, even if you’re not sure. Love is the antidote. Where shame says, “You are uniquely flawed,” love communicates, “You are uniquely loved and loveable.”
Jesus is our best resource when we feel uncomfortable, don’t know how to help, or realize a friend is overcome by shame. He is the One who never feels uncomfortable with our sins, knows how to help, and clothes us with His love.
So, just as your friend needs Jesus’s help in overcoming their unwanted sexual behaviors, you need Jesus with you, too. He will serve you and your friend much better than advice will.
Jesus, whether struggling with sexual sin ourselves or helping a friend who is, teach us to rest in You and abide in Your love.
Question: Where have you seen giving advice backfire? What other alternatives would you recommend?