Counseling People You Don’t Like, part 2

25 Aug

If you are counseling someone you don’t initially feel compassion towards what do you do?

And again, that’s the issue.

I want to be clear.

It’s not that when you meet someone who likes a certain sports team and you like gardening, all the sudden, you have to start loving everything about sports if you are going to help them. It’s what comes after that, that I am concerned about, what comes after meeting someone who is so different,  what happens, so often for a lot of  us, is that, we stop feeling like we need to care about them, and it’s that lack of care, and concern, that is the problem.

Because it’s sin, ultimately.

It’s not sin to have different interests than someone. It’s not sin to naturally enjoy certain people more than others, but it is sin not to sincerely love someone God’s brought in your life to encourage, to minister to, to help, and to deal with it, we have to be careful, not to make excuses, for that lack of care and concern and to get to the root of it, and ultimately, so often, the root of this lack of compassion and concern is, really, just self-centeredness and pride.

If you can deal with self-centeredness and pride, get that out, when it comes to people you don’t like,  what’s left is going to be the normal, differences between people, where you can still have a relationship and help, and, I think, that means, when you are counseling people, you initially don’t like, you are going to have to really.

Fight being self-centered.

If you don’t feel affection for someone and you are like, who is this guy?

It’s like a warning.

Be careful.

Don’t let yourself become self-centered.

One of the ways being self-centered shows up is that we just aren’t interested in someone. The problem most of us have is that we are too interested in ourselves to have much interest left for others. And even when we are interested in others, it is sometimes because they are interesting to us. If we are going to learn to care for people we don’t like we must learn to be interested in people not because they are interesting in and of themselves but simply, because we love them. That’s the key. When we begin to love people with the same intensity with which we love ourselves compassionate concern is sure to follow.

Compassion follows interest.

And interest in others begins with stopping being so interested in yourself and working at being interested in what God is interested in.

When you find yourself struggling to be interested in people, step back and consider God’s interest in them. You know God is interested in uninteresting people because He created them.

If the person you are struggling to like is an unbeliever, you should remember they are God’s creatures. And, what is more, they are made in His image and the fact, they are made in God’s image gives you a common bond with them. And it gives them great dignity, as well. While you might not think much of them, God thought enough of them to give them the honor of bearing the beauty of His image. And, whether or not, they appreciate that, as a Christian, you should. And while you might be tempted to consider them as not worth a moment of your time the fact that they are a human being who will live forever in either heaven or hell should cause you to think otherwise.

And you know, when you think about other Christians, your reasons to be concerned only increased. After all, how concerned is God with their good?

You can look back before the beginning of the world and see Him planning their adoption. You can look in the gospels and see Him accomplishing their salvation. You can look to the end of time and you will see Him pouring His grace on them, forever. And the question is, how can you fail to be interested in someone God is this interested in?  What is more, how can you fail to be interested in them when time and time again God commands you to be interested in them?

I remember  talking to a leader who told me he didn’t really like people. The problem wasn’t with people, it was with that leader. Somehow he never learned to look at people the way God does. If you have a hard time valuing another believer, you might try to picture Christ dying on the cross for them. Then imagine yourself standing beside Christ dying on the cross for someone you could care less about. How can you not love and care deeply for someone your Savior obviously cares so deeply about?

One thing you might do if you don’t feel deeply concerned about someone is to think about (imagine) what it would look like for you to be as interested in their good as God is – and then act like it!

If you struggle with being concerned for others’ interests, you can start by considering the way you show concern for your own.  Try thinking about someone else and what they are experiencing and the way you often are thinking about yourself. Practice looking at what others are going through from every angle, the way you might with what is happening to you. Take the way you show compassion and concern to yourself as a model for the way you should show compassion for others.

Really, when we talk about turning your attention from yourself to others like this, we are talking self-denial. This is fighting self-centeredness in real life. “Self-sacrifice” B.B. Warfield explains, “means not indifference to our times and our fellows; it means absorption in them. It means a forgetfulness of self in others. It means entering into every man’s hopes and fears, longings and despairs, it means many-sidedness of spirit, multiform activity, multiplicity of sympathies…It means not that we should live one life but a thousand lives, binding ourselves to a thousand souls by the filaments of so loving a sympathy that their lives become ours.” We bind ourselves to others the way Warfield describes because God has already bound us to them. We are one body and it is important we live and even feel like it! (1 Cor.12:26)

Which is why we fight being self-centered.

And.

Second why, we have to fight pride.  

There is a direct connection between being humble and being concerned for others and between being proud and not like people.

So mark it down.

If you are going to feel compassion for others, you need to show no compassion toward pride.

The problem is proud people usually don’t think they are proud people.

The first thing pride does is poke your spiritual eyes out so you are blind to it. That is why it is so important to look at the way you relate to others. People who are too hard on others are always too soft on themselves. Proud hearts always lead to cold hearts. The more you look up to yourself, the more will you look down on people. If you are having trouble feeling compassion for people, you can be sure it is because you are too busy feeling impressed by yourself.  One way you can begin to fight this war on pride is by seeing other people’s problems as your opportunities. Their problems are opportunities for you to do something even more important than give them the answer they need. Their problems are opportunities for you to pursue the humility you need. Before you begin to look for a solution to their problem, slow down and make sure you intentionally deal with your most significant problem, and that is pride. Commit yourself to doing something bigger than just saying the right thing to them. Commit yourself to feeling the right way for them and one way you do that is by first, calling calling sin what it is, what is this lack of concern I have for them, where’s it coming from, and so often, that’s going to be self-centeredness and pride, which you are going to have to fight, by looking at God’s attitude towards them, as well as what God has to say about you.

A second way is by working at putting on a new way of relating to people you don’t naturally feel affection for.

There is a put off and there is a put on. And I thought I could close by just sharing some practical positive steps you can take toward showing concern towards people you don’t naturally feel compassion towards.

First, make a priority out of treating them like people instead of projects.

You don’t like them.

You know you need to help them.

It’s tempting to treat them like a problem to fix instead of a person.

Let’s get this done.

That’s what we often do with people we don’t like. We rush. We offer up answers real quick. We don’t want to take the time, to really listen, and hear, and understand, what they are thinking and what they are going through, which is why we need to pray God gives us the self control to slow down and be present with the person who is coming to us almost as if, they were the only ones in the room with us.

You can start to show your concern for them as a person by asking them questions and then listening to their answers. You might think of their heart as being filled with treasures and then your job is try to draw those treasures out. (Prov. 20:5)   It is amazing how much you can learn about a person when you stop talking and start hearing what they actually have to say about what is going on in their life. Being a good listener can help you communicate (and pursue) compassion and concern even when you don’t feel all that compassionate or concerned. I think especially with people you don’t initially feel an affection for, you should go almost to the extreme in trying to let that person know you really want to understand how they are experiencing what’s happening to them.

Now, this usually means that you will have to patiently listen to a lot of words without doing a whole lot of interrupting or correcting or giving answers at first. It is sometimes helpful to say things like, “I am hearing you say that…Am I hearing you correctly?” Or, “I can hardly imagine how difficult it was for you to go through something like this…How did that make you feel?” You may feel like you aren’t doing anything when you sit there and listen like this, but if you are showing concern for the person you are speaking to, you are doing something very important and you are making it much easier for them to listen when you do finally begin to share biblical solutions with them.

You need to have a servant’s mindset with your words. As you speak, it is not just about getting the truth out and dumping truth on people, you are thinking about the occasion, you are thinking about what the person needs.  You are asking yourself, what is going on in in this person’s life, what are they struggling with, what do they understand, what do they need to understand, and how can I through my words at this moment serve them for the glory of Christ?

Second, make sure you don’t speak to them as if they don’t know anything about what they are going through.

It’s easy to treat someone who has questions, especially someone you don’t like, who has questions, as if they had never thought about the answers.

Pride will tempt you to relate to others in ways that demean and diminish them.

And, you have to guard against having a dismissive attitude that quickly brushes aside what they are thinking about what they are going through.

We aren’t usually very gentle with people we think aren’t very smart.

And humility demands when you speak to someone that you acknowledge they may have already done or considered doing some of what you are suggesting. Though they may need your help, you must be careful not to think of them or treat them as if they were completely helpless. This is especially true, obviously if they are Christians!

After all if they are believers, they have a Bible and the Holy Spirit, just like you.

And when you think of the people you are helping with this kind of humble respect, you will begin to speak to them in compassionate ways. When you remember the person you are speaking to is a thinking human being and if a Christian, someone who is being taught and trained by God, it changes the way you approach them with suggested solutions to their problems. Instead of rushing in as a “know it all,” you will ask for their perspective and listen to what they think may be the solution to the problem they are facing. You will verbally acknowledge they may have been thinking about this issue, since after all, it is their life. You might admit that you may be telling them things they have already considered. You will encourage them the reason you are sharing your concerns is not because you believe you are smarter or wiser or more spiritually than they are, but instead because you love them and want to be of any help you can.  

Third, make sure you are speaking words to them that are biblically true in a manner that is biblically appropriate.

Both are important.

Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Unfortunately, with people you don’t like, it seems like the security guard for your mouth, often goes on vacation and you say things, you wouldn’t normally say, which is why you have to be especially careful.

And, you might ask yourself the following kinds of questions: 

  • Am I saying something about someone else that isn’t true or helpful?
  • Am I speaking too quickly? Are my words thoughtful?
  • Could you describe my words as soft? This doesn’t mean that they are not direct or even addressing sin, but as I address those issues, am I doing so in a way that could be described as gentle?
  • Am I being sneaky with my speech? Am I saying one thing in a certain way to manipulate the situation in my favor? Am I trying to appear as if I am doing one thing when I have a larger goal in the back of my mind that is the exact opposite?
  • Am I making it easier for the person I am talking to argue with me?
  • Am I speaking because my feelings have been hurt or am I looking out for the other person’s good?
  • Does the way I am talking sound like a person who is slow to become angry?
 Am I picking up on every mistake the person is making and going after it with my words or am I quick to overlook an offense?

Showing care for someone who is difficult requires you to put off the kind of speech described in James 4:11, where James writes, “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.”

We speak evil against others when we speak words that are intended to hurt not to help.
More specifically, we speak evil against others when we speak words that are produced by pride not humility.

What exactly does this kind of proud speech look like?

It is when we say things we know aren’t true about other people just because we want to make them look bad. It is when we say things we don’t know are true about others just because we enjoy looking like we know something important. It is when we exaggerate a person’s faults. It is when we speak in hypercritical ways. It is when we speak as if we were the final standard of what is right and wrong and not God.

The way you speak to others reveals a great deal about what is happening in your heart.  As you pursue humble compassion it is important that you think about how you are speaking to others and whether or not your words are motivated by a desire to make yourself look good by tearing others down.

One of the ways to pursue compassion is to specifically work on speaking in ways that build others up. There is a kind of speech that makes relationships sick and there is a kind of speech that makes relationships healthy. “There is one who speaks like the piercings of a word, but the tongue of the wise promotes health.” (Prov. 12:18)

What does health producing speech look like exactly?

You’ll have to think about whether or not your speech is producing health or sickening people, because, often one reason we don’t initially like people is because they are speaking to us in ways that we find offensive, and so we, often just imitate them without thinking, so here are some possible real life suggestions.

Unhealthy: Why are you telling me what to do? Who do you think you are anyway?

Healthy: When you would like me to do something, I would appreciate it if you would ask me to do it rather than demanding I do it.

Unhealthy: Don’t you talk to me like that. If you ever do, I guarantee I will make sure you never do it again.

Healthy: The tone of voice you are talking to me in is tempting me to become frightened   or angry or respond in a sinful way.

Unhealthy: You better listen to me or you are just being dumb.

Healthy: Right now I am getting the impression you aren’t that interested in what I am saying. Is that true? Would there be a better time for me to talk to you about this?

Unhealthy: It is obvious you are bitter. Why can’t you see it? You need to look me right in the eyes and ask my forgiveness because I know that you are angry even if you don’t.

Healthy: I have been getting the sense that you are really disappointed with me about some things. Am I right? What exactly is it that I have been doing that has been making it difficult for you? Is it possible that there’s some anger in your heart toward me right now?

Unhealthy: I will tell you one thing. If you won’t do it, I will find someone who will.

Healthy: Please help me understand why you don’t want to do what I have asked you to    do.

Unhealthy: That’s a stupid idea. What you are suggesting is ridiculous. Why would you ever think it would work?

Healthy: Let me make sure I understand what you are saying and why you think that way.

Unhealthy: You are doing it all wrong! The way you are doing it doesn’t make sense. Let   me tell you a better way to do it!

Healthy: I know you like the way you are doing it and its ok with me if you want to do it that way. Would you mind though if suggest another way of doing it that might save a little energy?

Unhealthy: You are so funny when you get mad. I really get a kick out of the way you get red in the face and the way you glare at me when you get mad. It’s so funny to see you acting in the childish ways you do. Your pouting and sulking reminds me of what some of our children used to do when they didn’t get their way, back when they were babies.

Healthy: You seem upset. Are you? What is it that I have done or said that displeases you? Whatcould I have done differently that would have been less problematic for you?

Unfortunately sometimes as Christians we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we don’t think about the effect the way we are speaking has on the person in front of us. Perhaps we are speaking the truth, but we are speaking the truth in a selfish way, because we are not concerned about the person we are speaking the truth to.

We need to work on learning the language of compassion. As you practice using compassionate words to communicate to others, pray that God will help you believe and truly feel what you are saying. As you speak to others using compassionate speech instead of uncompassionate words you will often find God producing in you feelings of concern for others that you haven’t felt before.

Fourth, take time to pray with the person you are struggling to care for, and to pray for them.

All too often those who are attempting to help struggling people, jump in and try to fix the problem on their own without depending on God. If anything, maybe they will shoot up a quick prayer, but then get right into the issue. What about just slowing down with the person you are ministering to and getting on your knees together and saying something like, “God, we are confused about how to deal with this problem and we know it would be very easy to make things worse, and so we are just coming before you crying out that you would give us the ability to know what to do next?”

Fifth, pray that God helps you be willing to learn from the person you are struggling to care for.

If you are helping someone who you feel superior towards, it is easy to begin thinking of yourself as the problem solver and them as the problem.

But, life is more complex than that.

What if God is using the unique differences in the other person to impact you? What if what’s your relationship with them is a moment for you to learn something? Actually, there’s really no ‘what if’ about it. When you begin seeing the person to whom you are speaking to as someone who has something to teach you, you will generally stop seeing yourself as someone who is superior to them. This will open the door so compassion can flow into and out of your heart more freely.

Sixth, work on helping the person you are speaking to know that you love them and God does too.

Whenever you are counseling someone they need hope.

The more pain adds up the more questions multiply.

One means God uses to give other people hope are loving relationships. There is something significant that happens when you know someone has your back.

Unfortunately, when someone is hurting deeply, he usually is also feeling very insecure. This is why it’s important you only tell a person what to do, you also tells them that you love them.

At first, this may seem awkward for you. But, try this. Look at the person you are talking to and say, ‘I want you to know that I really appreciate you and love you.” They can’t see into your heart. They don’t know what’s there if you don’t say it. Now, I understand telling those outside of your family that you love them may feel strange to you, but you must get over that. This is part of pursuing humility in real life. Don’t just tell them you love them however. Do whatever you can to help them become convinced of God’s great love for them as well. Compassion requires you help them appreciate this truth! The greatest problem anyone can have is not knowing God’s love for them. The greatest solution you can offer them is helping them discover and enjoy it.  You want to help them move past simply knowing God as an idea or a fact to delighting in God as a person.

Seventh, if you want to grow in showing concern for difficult, surround yourself with people who are good at it.

Our family once took a trip to visit friends in Germany.

I will always remember our time there because I have never been shown hospitality like that. Their unselfish concern for us exposed how selfish I had been in the way I reached out to others who had visited me. It motivated me to work harder on expressing concern for others and gave me a pattern to follow in how to do that. I had heard sermons on hospitality and I had even preached sermons on hospitality, but seeing hospitality helped me take those principles and apply them more specifically to my life.

I am convinced the same is true with caring for people.

God designed us to learn from and be influenced by the way people live. This is why when Paul discipled people, he not only provided verbal and written instruction, he also challenged people to take note of his example. It is interesting to read his letters and notice how many times he calls on others to imitate him. Paul went about training people this way because he knew that for us to change we need not only to hear instruction but also to see how that instruction is applied in real life. If you are going to become more concerned for people it is good to read about compassion and listen to sermons about love. But it is also vital to spend time with people who are living a compassionate lifestyle. Watch them. Listen to the way they communicate. Don’t defend yourself and make excuses for yourself when they are more unselfish than you. Instead allow yourself to be challenged by them and even deliberately attempt to imitate them.

The book of Proverbs warns us not to make a friendship with a man given to anger lest we learn his ways. (Prov. 22:24,25) I am convinced we can take this proverb and flip it on its head. We should make friendships with people given to compassion so that we can learn their ways!

Finally, think about their needs and make sacrifices to meet them expecting nothing in return.  

 With all that I have been saying about the importance of feeling for people, it is important to stress that, we often don’t feel what we should toward others because we are not doing what we should in our relationship with them. When we begin considering their interests above our own, working on getting to know them, spending time with them, listening to them, seeing what is happening in their life, and making sacrifices to help them succeed in their relationship with Christ, those acts of obedience will provide the soil in which feelings of compassion can grow.

It will take work to feel right. I guarantee it. Especially when you are confronted with someone you don’t naturally feel affection for. I wouldn’t be surprised if you feel a little overwhelmed as you begin to think about making some of the changes you need to in order to become a more caring person. But, representing Jesus well is not going to be easy. Given how proud and selfish we are and how many bad habits we have developed over the years we can be certain caring for other people is going to require effort.

But really, given the fact we are representing Someone whose compassion for sinners like us took Him to the cross to die in our place, should we expect anything less?

Though the process of loving others well may be hard for you, I guarantee it will also be good for you. God’s packed the path toward sacrificial love with His grace. You cannot take steps toward becoming more concerned for others without also growing in your appreciation of God’s great love for you. To show compassion you must know God’s compassion and what’s more as you show compassion to others God will reveal His compassion for you more and more, especially as you seek to show compassionate concern to people, you don’t like.

 

 

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