by Kathy Lay
This Week’s Verse: Proverbs 25:20, “Singing cheerful songs to a person whose heart is heavy is as bad as stealing someone’s jacket in cold weather or rubbing salt in a wound.” (NLT)
I have a friend from my high school years that I rarely see or communicate with anymore. It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s because every several years or so, we’ll somehow reconnect, vow to keep each other updated via email, and then after exchanging a few “catch up” emails about what’s going on in our lives, she’ll just stop responding. Cold turkey. And I take it very personally and get my nose all out of joint about it. I start to wonder if she even likes me.
At Christmas I was expressing my frustration about this to my husband’s step-mom, Pat, who is acquainted with my friend. I told how I’d answer questions about what’s going on in my life with long paragraphs, trying to fill in the gaps of years since we’d last kept in touch, and then I’d get back nothing…NOTHING! Whew. I couldn’t wait for Pat to validate me with a sympathetic “Yeah, that’s weird. I wonder why she’d do that?”
But that didn’t happen. Pat kind of laughed and said, “Well, Miss Suzy Sunshine, maybe she just feels like she can’t compete with your life.”
I was stunned. That couldn’t be it. Could it?
I still don’t know if that’s the real reason for the lapse in communication, but Pat’s words pierced my soul so deeply that I really had to stop and consider how I’d summarized my life to this friend in those few emails. I’d caught her up on cool ways God was working, on the kids’ activities, on Shane’s job and my job. I’d probably included some really cute stories about the kids.
No doubt about it, I’d glossed over the imperfections and the battles I face daily to focus on what’s good in my life. It was unintentional—I sure didn’t do it to compete, or to flash a big neon sign saying “Kathy’s life is perfect” in her face. I think did it because I felt our relationship had slipped from what used to be a close one into what was now a superficial one. So I gave her a superficial account. I’d hoped for our messages back and forth to get more personal, to expose more vulnerability, and to take us back to a more intimate level where I felt safe in sharing more. The real more. The messier more.
Would she have responded if I’d opened up about my frequent struggle with anxiety and depression? And that I have to repeatedly give those over to God or I’d be an even bigger mess?
Would she have responded if I’d mentioned some bad parenting moments? Some stupid fights? Some wrong decisions?
See, I’d broken one of the cardinal rules of effective communication: know your audience. In an over-eager attempt to catch up, I plowed ahead without gauging my friend’s “place”. This week’s verse clearly shows the importance of being aware of your friend’s status so that you know how to respond accordingly. If she was in a low place and I made it sound like I was in a high place, well…I might have been stealing her jacket or rubbing salt in a wound.
Every exchange any of us has with others is an opportunity to gauge where they are and respond appropriately. Romans 12:15 advises us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”(NIV)
That’s what a good friend does…
Now, excuse me. I need to go send an email. It’ll be short and it won’t focus on so much on me.
Father God, give us your empathy for others. In our conversations—whether in person, via telephone, or through electronic means—give us wisdom to know when to listen and when to speak. Guide us in discerning how to best meet the needs of our friends and develop our relationships into ones that are meaningful, real, and glorifying to you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Try to envision different reactions you might have if you’re talking to a friend who seems …tired, distracted, joyful, quiet, angry, goofy. How can you meet her where she’s at? What if her kids are interrupting and pulling at her? Does it matter if you’re in public or private? How might communicating electronically change the dynamics? Asking questions shows you are interested and you care. It also tells you more about “where” she is, allowing you to respond in the best way possible.
Job 16:1-5, “Then Job defended himself: ‘I've had all I can take of your talk. What a bunch of miserable comforters! Is there no end to your windbag speeches? What's your problem that you go on and on like this? If you were in my shoes, I could talk just like you. I could put together a terrific harangue and really let you have it. But I'd never do that. I'd console and comfort, make things better, not worse!” (MSG)
Proverbs 12:18, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (NIV)