Recently I was asked to talked about EVEN SO with my friend Sr. Rita Woehkle at the Trenton Free Public Library. (You can click here to watch/listen. Sr. Rita says many wonderful things.)
Haven’t we all had a friend ask for for advice, only to be rebuffed? It’s so hard to watch someone we love walk right off the edge of a cliff, isn’t it? Then too, I’m sure we’ve all sought out a wise friend and either been assisted or disappointed at one time or another.
Tea and sympathy. That listening ear. The ability to hold space for another’s pain and confusion. We all need that, and it’s an honor to be given the opportunity to offer it so someone else. It can also go quite wrong, can’t it? To receive someone else’s pain gracefully and helpfully is a skill, that’s for sure.
Now, I’m certain Sr. Rita would be a far better person than I to address this question, and I hope that shortly I’ll be able to persuade her to join me on this blog from time to time, but until then, here is my response to the person who wrote to me (and it includes a good deal of what I’ve learned from Sr. Rita):
I think you’re exactly right that this is the situation — offering a friend advice she doesn’t want to follow and then having the relationship turn awkward — that Deedee faces in EVEN SO. Over the years of my friendship with Sr. Rita, she has opened my mind and heart to the idea that although we may think we know what the right path is for other people, we actually might not. Because we are humans, we see very little of the road before us, so it’s hard to discern what the right path is for ourselves, let alone someone else! She’s also taught me, as Sr. Eileen says in the novel, that there is nothing so awful that God can’t transform it into something good.So, what I try to do when someone comes to me with a problem is to ask questions. What do you hope will come from this? Do you think you or anyone else will be harmed? What will it be like to live with the consequences? How does it feel, really feel, in your body, if you imagine doing one thing or another? Could that be a message from your deeper self, guiding you? Sometimes it’s also good to point out any patterns or sense that someone might be acting in a way so as to avoid not dealing with the real issue. (Example: I often see people in recovery from addiction who are mad at their boss/spouse/neighbor for nagging them about their alcohol or drug use, and they want to leave the relationship rather than deal with the underlying issue of addiction.) I ask a question like, “Is it possible this isn’t about X? Could it be about Y?”And, as Sr. Rita says, if you don’t know what to do, perhaps this you shouldn’t, for the moment, do anything at all. Just be still, and wait until an answer becomes clear. Prayer, journaling, and yes, talking to a dear friend, are all helpful things to do.Another question may be, when a friend says they want support, not advice, what does that really mean? If they are asking you to listen, but to have no opinion, then perhaps you can decide whether that’s something you can offer, or if you’re not comfortable with that. They may be asking you for something you can’t give, or, possibly, it may be an opportunity (invitation!) for you to explore a new skill, a new way of being in relationship with your friend, and even with your own deeper self.
This kind of listening, of being with someone we love during a challenging time, is another form of mercy, I think.
Life is so complicated, isn’t it? But so full of astonishing things, relationships (even difficult ones) being among the most astonishing.
I’d be interested in hearing how you, dear reader, help guide friends who ask for guidance, or what sort of guidance YOU might wish for.