Last year a recurring problem in Somalia made the world news. People throughout the world were reaching out and sending food, medicine, and other critical supplies to help starving people in that country. The supplies, however, rarely reached the people that needed them so desperately. They were often intercepted by the very warlords and militias that had contributed to the poverty stricken condition the people were in. Once this problem was exposed and studied, it would have been insane to continue to blindly send aid in the same manner as before. Aid would still be needed, but the question of how to get the aid to the people who needed it would have to be addressed.
I love wrestling with difficult questions and seeking answers to problems. I used to believe that supplying people with the correct answers to their questions (often whether they asked or not) was one of the most important things you could do in life. I still believe that honest answers to questions are important, but I’ve learned something else now as well. In the same way that simply dumping food and medicine into Somalia had stopped doing any good for the people who needed it, simply dumping answers on people who I think may need them doesn’t do any good either. It’s possible that the people you are trying to help are no longer listening to the answers that you are offering. Here are three things to remember as you seek to help others:
1)Love comes before answers, not vice versa
A major failing of the church in the past 30 years is that it has often been focused on teaching its people right answers instead of teaching them how to love. We then unleash them on their jobs, communities, and schools to go spread the right answers. It’s been like sending someone to change light bulbs with a hammer. God’s plan for people is to love first and always. Everything else comes after that. If the person you are talking to doesn’t know that they are loved, the will never care about your answers.
2)Acts of love give meaning to words of love
It’s important to tell the people you care for that you love them. You should do it as often as you can, in as many ways as you can. Just saying the words isn’t enough though. In our fast-paced, hectic world one of the most difficult challenges we face is the fact that love takes time. Quick answers won’t do the trick, even if they are the right answers. Your co-worker that you care about, who keeps wrecking her life with toxic relationships, already knows that her relationships are awful. What she needs is someone who will spend time with her and love her even when she is a mess. Over time that love will help her find the courage to make the changes she needs to make. Sometimes the answers that people need can be delivered without saying a word.
3)Don't Rush In With An Answer
A quick answer to a heartfelt question can often make someone feel dumb or lazy. When people have the courage to ask a question our first goal should be to meet them where they are and to make sure they know that we care for them. For example, let’s say your middle school son comes in and says, “I’m sick of studying, everybody else just cheats on the quizzes and they have a better grade than I do. I’m not going to study anymore.” You could answer, “Christians don’t cheat. Those kids are going to have to answer for God one day for what they did in sixth grade Civics. Now, go study.” You just offered an 8 second solution to a problem that has been stressing your son all day. No matter how good you think your answers are, that’s a lousy way to treat someone. Take some time to appreciate where your son is before you jump in. Maybe something like, “Wow, that’s got to be really stressful. I think I would be super angry if that happened to me.” Let him know that what’s he feeling makes sense before you cram an answer down his throat. Better yet, work with him to help him find an answer, rather than just dropping one on his head.
When we love people, we try to help them. We try to answer questions. We try to solve problems, which is good because people need what you have to offer. While most of our efforts are motivated by love, just like the aid sent to the Somalian people, our help doesn’t always reach its intended target. Our preoccupation with giving answers often pushes people away. Let your friends, children, and co-workers know that you have love for them before you let them know that you have answers for them. By doing so, you may help them receive and enjoy both.
Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo