The biblical wisdom found in 1st Thessalonians is this: Encourage one another and build each other up. It’s a beautiful verse. It’s poetic. It’s what so many of us have been trying to do during the COVID-19 pandemic. I should find this comforting. I should use this as evidence that we’re on the right track and doing the right things. This is the advice we should all follow.
In reality, I feel like I am in the midst of a panic attack and someone is telling me to calm down and not worry. At 22 years old, I still have the same response I had when I was 12.
Why didn’t I think of that?
I don’t say that aloud now as much as I did when I was younger. But I think it and I think it the same way I used to say it – sarcastically, while crying, and through gritted teeth.
It’s something people struggle with. We give each other the most obvious advice. Over and over again, we provide unsolicited recommendations on how to deal with something. We tell people who suffer from depression that they would feel better if they got out of bed. We tell people with ADHD that they should concentrate harder. We tell people with chronic migraines that they should drink more water and consider doing yoga.
And it’s not coming from a bad place. We want to help other people. We truly believe that what we are suggesting will help them. And sometimes it would. But also, sometimes it’s not possible. There is nothing more helpful to me during an anxiety attack than calming down. But it’s not a magic button I can turn off and on.
We think we know what is best for people. And by we, I mean I definitely think I know what’s best for some people in my lives. There are days I crawl into bed at night and think, “if only they listened to me.”
Things would be better if they listened to me.
That’s an ugly thought. That’s a human thought. And as I see it written down, I still believe it. But I know that there are also people who crawl into bed and sometimes think, “if only Sarah would listen to me.” But there are a couple problems with this approach. Problem number one, we are profoundly bad at listening to one another. Problem number two, even when we do listen to each other, we are profoundly bad at taking each other’s advice. And problem number three, we don’t actually know if our or their advice is right.
If encouraging each other means taking each other’s advice or giving advice, I don’t think we’re getting very far. Of course, I’m biased. My childhood best friends would tell you I only ask for advice when I’ve made up my mind. I don’t want advice, I want validation. And they would be right.
Okay, so we have to encourage each other but when we give each other unsolicited advice, most of the time that backfires. Most of the time that pushes people away and doesn’t draw them closer.
So, should we throw in the towel? Say, that’s a wrap on humanity, they are impossible to work with, and literally ignore all constructive criticism?
Or do we build each other up by staying and building relationships?
Instead of telling people we told them so, do we let them sit on our laps and cry? When they ask for advice, do we give it, knowing they might not take it even if it’s what is best for them? When they are hurting other people, do we call them out on their behavior? Do we stay besides the most vulnerable?
I want you to be encouraged today. Because you are a ridiculous sinner and a menace sometimes. You have probably hurt more people than you can possibly imagine. Odds are, you will hurt even more people before your time on Earth is done. You have failed people and broken promises and lied and cheated.
And you are a beautiful human being worthy of love. And you are not alone. And despite all of that, Jesus was still willing to die for you. And, maybe even more miraculous on a day to day basis, despite all of that, you still have friends and people in your life who love you. And you are still capable of loving them back. Because no one is past redemption.
Yours in Christ,