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.”