Last spring, I went to a dinner party where I barely knew anyone. As I walked in, I decided to be open-hearted and unguarded for a change. And for once, I would refrain from offering unsolicited encouragement.
I told myself: “Just listen to people and don’t share your much-needed insights or words of wisdom. Be a listener, not a fixer.”
As I filled my plate at the kitchen island, I scanned the surrounding sea of faces. A woman whom I had met in the foyer stood alone in a corner. I crossed the floor towards her to save us both from an awkward solitude.
“Hey, Annie, how do you spend your time?” I said, jamming a fork into my macaroni and cheese.
“Oh, hey, well, I own a dog walking business,” she said between chews.
“Wow, I bet that keeps you busy!” I eyed my fried chicken.
“Yes.” She swallowed a mouthful of potato salad. “A friend suggested I get active again even though I’m in so much pain.”
I lifted my eyebrows. “Oh, what sort of pain?” I leaned in to hear her answer above the party hum. I was well-acquainted with the topic.
“Fibromyalgia.” She scrunched her nose and pushed some potato salad around with a plastic spoon.
Shoulder to the wall, I chewed my food, ruminating my choices. I could keep quiet, see if she’d elaborate. Or, I could share my knowledge and possibly alleviate her suffering. My experience with chronic pain has taught me many strategies for easing it.
I resolved to offer Annie a tiny gem from my storehouse of learning:
“I just read a book describing how chronic pain, such as fibromyalgia, can be related to emotional triggers. Like anxiety and anger. Maybe you are dealing with more than pain.” I dangled the information like a jewel on a chain.
Annie put down her spoon, adding to the suspense with a sip of water. She swallowed. “I just keep moving and try not to notice it,” she said, angling away from me.
Gulp. Conversation over.
I am a teacher and fixer by nature. First, I devour information relevant to my problems — and yours. After getting my fill, I digest and then share from my treasure chest of answers. I champ at the bit to help.
The conversation with Annie reminded me of Jesus’ message on casting pearls before swine:
“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (ESV)
— Matthew 7:6
It’s not that Annie was a pig. Her manners were perfectly southern. And she did not attack me. But I didn’t know what was on her plate. I offered a dainty morsel to a stranger who did not ask for a taste. She returned my “gift” with a cold shoulder.
In searching the wily web for other thoughts on the pearl thing, I found:
This is how you should view the things God has done in your life. You can’t put a price on what you have learned through your life experiences as you’ve walked with Him. Like precious pearls, those life lessons are inestimable in their value because they cost you something. They weren’t the result of shallow swimming. You had to go deep into God to obtain those spiritual treasures.
In other words: Don’t use personal epiphanies to enlighten others. Better to give your hard-earned cash to someone who asks for and can appreciate it.
The Odor of Judgment
My propensity to fix sets me squarely in the judge’s seat. The crime occurs when my good intentions are mixed with the intent to enlighten and convict. The resulting elixir stinks with the odor of judgment.
Jesus warns of this in that same passage in Matthew. He said I shouldn’t judge others because it will come back to haunt me. And He said I best discover my own blind spots before pointing out the possible flaws of others.
From my blind-spotted, all-knowing position, I have dropped many a pearl of wisdom on the heads of the piggies in my midst. Certain of what those swine need for improvement, I expect them to receive and assimilate my helpful, loving gifts.
Instead, they stare at me as if I’m crazy.
“Who made you the judge?” or “What do I do with this?”
Humiliating, when my investment returns crusted in mud.
A Pig in Pearls
Have you ever seen a pig in pearls?
I’m not talking Miss Piggy. Although her swinely swagger certainly helps with the picture.
Cook up a person with the gift of encouragement. Turn up the burner for bless-your-heart warmth. Stew and stir in some well-meaning conceit. Now add a dash of presumption and a twist of criticism and you’ll see what I’m getting at.
This compelling character says things like: “You can do better. Let me tell you how” and “I believe in you even if no one else does” and “Somewhere inside of you is a very kind person.”
That’s me. A boorish judge in costume jewelry. A purveyor of precious wisdom of the porcine persuasion.
Many times have I apologized for offering an indigestible tidbit of what I considered soul food, serving up gifts with hints of judgment.
For example, a relative of mine once caught my encouragement in his teeth. He spit it back at me and said, “I don’t enjoy being judged.”
His response shocked me. I had offered my words as a compliment, saying, “You have been so generous with your money and time this year. I think, deep in your heart, that is who you truly are.”
3 Ways to See It
Encouragement or judgment? Lovely or ugly? Depends on how you look at it. I’ve found 3 ways to consider this piggishness. Mine and yours—not that I’m judging.
- Sometimes it’s ugly. Keep your epiphanies and encouragements to yourself. Some people can’t receive what you have to give. Even if your intentions are pure, not everyone will recognize their beauty.
- Sometimes it’s lovely. Share your gems with people you know, people who love and trust you. They’ll recognize the value of your treasures, perhaps.
- Sometimes it’s a mishmash. Throw those epiphanies at your own risk but temper your tendencies with wisdom. Better to listen before fixing. Then, let it go and let them deal with it.
I can accept the way I am. A mixture of lovely and stinky. Cultured and coarse. Also, I have undoubtedly trampled precious pearls that well-wishers have offered me.
Picturing my next party, I see myself all dressed up and eating like a pig. I’ll keep my heart and mind open but my mouth shut. Unless someone wants to encourage me. Then I’ll say, “Pass the soul food, please.”
20 thoughts on “The Curse of Encouragement: 3 Ways to See It”
I feel compelled to share a story. When Out of the Grey performed at a small venue in my town a long time ago, you were compassionate, kind, and giving to a friend of a friend who had some significant problems. She was a stranger to you at the time, yet you went out of your way to reach out to her, after she reached out to you.
The venue was small enough that I worked up the courage to introduce myself. You were so kind and humble…I’ll never forget it. I was so surprised at how unguarded you were. Out of the Grey was already very well known at the time, and yet…
I kind of hate posting this publicly, because it sounds like groupie-speak.🙂So be it. ♥️
Lisa, You have the gift of encouragement! Thanks for taking the time to post this. It is a good mirror for me all of these years later ( :
I love this post. I NEED this post! It is a fine tightrope to walk between good intentions and preaching…blessing others with my profoundness. I have often justified my “gift” with the thought that it would make no sense to keep the answer to somebody’s problem to myself when they obviously need my help whether they realize it or not. I still struggle with that. Some people have their guard up so much that even if I had the cure for cancer they would reject it. (I don’t have that cure by the way. Pity.) Maybe the idea of keeping my mouth shut is coming to the forefront the older I get. I keep trying the philosophy to ask more questions than give answers and a more recent “learn to learn” strategy. I think it is situational though. I would love to come across as humble and nonthreatening, but I think if I always ask more questions then I am prone to get the reputation of not knowing very much. Ha! I’m going to keep chewing on this and watch it grow and expand. Thanks for the pearls. You can be confident in knowing that I appreciate your insights. No oinking here!
…and I’m so sorry for the chronic pain. You may never know if the seed you planted at that dinner party took root. Maybe, like me, she needs to digest what you offered.
Wonderful way to put it! I always have wanted to come across as smart. But why? And WHO cares?
I needed your thoughts, thank you ( :
Good point about “I always have wanted to come across as smart”. I worked with special needs adults for several years, and if there’s something I can generally say is that generally special needs adults don’t have to have their composure. Hopefully I learned a little bit of that from them and the willingness to give and accept help.
yes, good thoughts, Kelly.
Gratitude is usually a safe place to encourage. It’s not about fixing anything just seeing the struggle before someone and acknowledging their effort. That’s not a perfect solution by any means, but humanity NEEDS encouragement ❤️ You definitely have a gift for that Christine.
Maybe this is part of the reason why Yeshua couched so many of His mind-blowing truths about the Kingdom of Heaven in parables: He new the simple stories would resonate in the imaginations of His hearers long before they were ready to hear and understand the nuggets of insight they contained.
Mark, that’s an interesting idea.
Your article resonates like a typical “Frasier” mishmash episode. Seek and you shall find!
It prompted me to connect retrospectively with Jesus through the following set of prayers encouraging Him towards progressive lifetime accomplishments, as aided by His Mentors.
Infant Jesus, may You exist formidable through Your Father
Young Jesus, may You grow admirable through Your Mother
Mature Jesus, may You become capable through Your Step-Father
Adult Jesus, may You remain durable through Your Spirit
Christine, I remember many moons ago, I confessed my struggle to you (and Scott) with keeping quiet when I know the answer… We had a good laugh about my arrogance; it was disarming and I was able to extend grace to myself for wanting to be a know-it-all. You guys normalized it somewhat and that helped me a lot. Since then, I recite this acrostic often; “WAIT” which stands for “Why am I talking?” :-0)
Scott and I laughed out loud—love you, love your acrostic!
I’m adopting your clever acrostic!
My father-in-law was great with one-liners. My mother-in-law would love to throw parties, and he, being the introverted one, would be sitting in the corner minding his own business, happy as a clam. But people would think he was lonely, so they would come over to chat, and he’d say, “Oh – go ahead and talk, you’re not bothering me!” SO, yes, it’s good to not ‘throw your pearls before swine’, but also to not ‘talk to a brick wall’!
Good point, Teresa!
Oh wow. Um. My hand is in the air. This is me!
Honestly, I think you were being very compassionate, not necessarily judgmental.
I am, though, learning to do more of a “sitting shiva” and just listen for awhile and make a connection before I offer help; and I’m trying to learn to ask questions instead of offering advice right away.
I say “trying” because a lifetime of habits doesn’t change overnight.
I suspect that, like me, you judge yourself as you walk away.
I can pray for someone, they get healed or they feel God’s presence in some way and that makes me happy. Then, I walk away asking “Why didn’t I ask them if they know Jesus? Why didn’t I offer …………?” (fill in the blank).
I hate that and I’m trying to figure out what to do about it.
Yes, Pam, all of what you said!
I wouldn’t scrap enthusiasm to encourage others just to avoid the potential of a scrap. Be true to yourself and both can be nourished, even subliminally. As Frasier quoted Alfred, Lord Tennyson in his farewell episode:
“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield!”
Yes, I’m the anonymous subscriber.
I think you are very similar to me. I’m a nurse as well as a human who has strived through struggles. I imagine your innermost desire is just to help people and love on them. Sadly oftentimes people have grown comfortable in their suffering and prefer to be pitied, complaining of their woes rather than be set free from them. I lost a life long friend by giving her my treasured advise. She really doesn’t want to change her situation but would rather everyone feel sorry for her. It seems like insanity to me and it pains me to watch her make the same mistakes over and over.
She literally said to me “Lisa I don’t want to know how to fix my problems. I just want you to listen to me.”
I spend my life constantly trying new things to alleviate New troubles. I can’t imagine deciding to dwell in the same problems and give up.
That’s what some people want to do?
Lisa, thanks for your input. There does seem to be a fine line between being a listening friend and a contending friend. Crossing that line on either side can be hazardous. However, we only have our own perspective and can rarely see from another’s point of view. May you and your friend reconcile one day. (: