Apples of Gold: A Word Fitly Spoken
Jul 16, 2017 03:37AM
By Bonnie Lyn Smith
Not too long ago, a dear friend of mine, who is also a counselor, taught me a brilliant strategy in discerning wanted communication. Instead of assuming the person you are listening to wants advice, it is good to ask first:
“Would you like some feedback?”
I love this statement for so many reasons.
First of all, it disarms the other person so that he or she doesn’t feel put on the defensive.
Second, it lets that person know that if he or she chooses to share struggles or concerns with us, a natural response for us, the listeners, is to also form counsel in our own mind. If that person prefers us to be a sounding board only, this question offers the opportunity to express exactly that. It sets expectations properly—and don’t we all need more of that?
Finally, it prepares the person sharing the problem to take ownership if we have to speak some truth into his/her life.
It’s a brilliant set-up, and I’ve made it a regular part of my dialogue—with my teenagers, husband, friends, and those difficult folks in our lives who want to dump the problem on us with some consistency but who don’t want to move forward in problem-solving. It creates a boundary and expected response that suggests:
"If you continue to share this with me, I will expect that you want to hear some advice"
—without overtly stating that.
It establishes patterns of interaction that by nature are teaching opportunities.
So, here’s my question:
What do we do when unwanted, unsolicited advice gets tossed our direction?
Know what I mean?
Let me back up. I have a set of folks I go to for very specific advice on certain topics. While there can be crossover at times, the friends I consult on how to navigate difficult relationships may or may not be different from the ones I talk to about parenting, for example. But there have been a few people who have self-appointed their roles as my mentors and tutors in life who had:
1) No authority in my life to do so.
2) No invitation to climb into my inner circle or privacy.
3) No experience in the area of advice.
Any of those examples ring a bell in your own life?
I’ve had to draw boundaries around this area of my life pretty regularly, partly because I am a writer and wear my heart on my sleeve. To some extent, it goes with the territory, but often people will see something I expressed and make assumptions about how to “fix it” when my point wasn’t so much to invite help but to share a struggle many people could relate to so they wouldn’t feel so alone.
So many of us mean well when we start to solve someone else’s problem for them, but how do we know when we overstep?
Here’s what the Bible says about the timeliness of opening our mouths.
Proverbs 25:11, ESV
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
It’s so true that when God has assigned an exchange of wisdom, it is a deep deposit into our soul. It is His truth spoken into our hearts, and it has the capacity to heal, restore, refresh, and give peace to us. Why? Because the treasure of it came from godly counsel and from asking Him first. Proverbs 16:24 tells us it gives actual health to the body!
Proverbs 16:24, ESV
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
But our words toward another, or the words of counsel toward us, have to be divinely picked (just as the golden apple of Proverbs 25:11)—a word in season. This requires prayer because we don’t always know the timing of an apt answer—but God does!
Proverbs 15:23, ESV
To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!
A good way to slow ourselves down and thoughtfully consider our feedback to the other person can be as simple as first asking ourselves these three questions:
1) Did that person ask for advice? Did he or she receive my offer to give it?
Proverbs 18:13, ESV
If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.
2) Do I have any experience in the area this person is referencing? Would my own struggles help to inform what he or she is going through?
Proverbs 15:2, ESV
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
3) Have I prayed before approaching this person with my thoughts about the situation? Prayer helps us to slow down, ask for God’s timing, and find the right words.
Proverbs 29:20, ESV
Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
On the flip side, when we receive some unwanted counsel, when someone has clearly stepped over our boundaries, here are some gracious responses I have practiced and used now and again:
1) Thank you, but that is not an area I feel prepared to discuss right now.
2) I will let you know if I want to talk about this more. I appreciate that you care.
3) I think I am all set or okay on this issue, but I do have something I would like to run by you.
To live this out as honestly as we can, we need to be able to step away from our own need to instruct when the answer to the question “Would you like some feedback?” is “no.”
Can you think of a time you received the exact wisdom you needed? How did that differ from a time when you were caught off-guard by well-intentioned advice?
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
She is the author of Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day and the founder and editor-in-chief of Ground Truth Press, a book publishing company.