Self-Reflection, Resentment, and Not Giving Advice
Do you ever take a few minutes before a new season starts to reflect on the one you just finished? This week is my week to prepare for our upcoming school year, establish some new routines at home, and schedule upcoming events for the fall.
But before all of that, I needed to reflect over the summer. So, I spent part of Friday morning going through some refection practices lined out by Emily P. Freeman in her podcast The Next Right Thing, which is the best free therapy session you could possibly receive on the internet. If you need some help in soul care, I can’t recommend this podcast enough.
Self-reflection can be a hard and lonely task, especially if you don’t know yourself that well. I know it sounds crazy to have a brain that holds all of your thoughts and feelings and emotions and yet doesn’t know its own self, but it’s a thing. It is. If I don’t know myself that well, how can I know if I am ready to improve it or not?
When I don’t take time to get introspective about what’s going on with me, I tend to seek advice from my friends and family instead. I frantically text my girlfriends or ask Tyler a million questions that all amount to, “CAN YOU JUST DECIDE FOR ME?” And then, when they give me the advice I ask for, I do something really crazy, I resent them. Yep.
If I get advice or direction from friends or family — well meaning, well intending people who love me — I tend to react defensively. When that defensive stance hits, that usually means that I haven’t been practicing self-reflection. It might also mean that I haven’t thought through a problem enough on my own to see where I really want to go. So, even when I ask for that advice, I get mad for receiving it. Yes, even though I asked. It doesn’t seem to make sense.
If you subscribe to my newsletter, you know that recently, I read a book called Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb, which is a book of stories that happen in a therapist’s office. The author writes about her patients (with their consent), how she tries to help them, and then she also writes about her own journey through therapy as she hits something unexpected and devastating to her personal life.
I jotted down a quote from this book in my journal, and I no longer have the book on hand, so if I put it out of context or misrepresent it somehow, I apologize. In this particular passage, Gottlieb talks about what she’s learned over her first few years of becoming a professional therapist:
“When I first started out, though, occasionally I’d feel pressure to give advice of the benign (or so I believed) sort. But then I realized that people resent being told what to do. Yes, they may have asked to be told — repeatedly, endlessly — but after you comply, their initial relief is replaced by resentment.”
When I first read this, I thought, “No, sometimes people want to know what to do,” and I paused a second and looked back over times that I’ve been frustrated at friends for 1) asking my opinion, and then 2) getting mad or defensive over my opinion after I offered it. It’s almost every time. Even close friends will give me reasons why my opinion wouldn’t help or wouldn’t work. Why do we resist taking advice? I do the same thing. I ask for advice or direction from friends or family members. They give the advice. And then, I get annoyed. Why?
Ultimately, we want permission to be in charge of our own lives, but we question if we can do it. Living life is hard and asking for help is hard. The freedom of choice is a powerful force, so powerful that it can be terrifying. And while sometimes we need help sorting through the circumstances of our lives, we want the power to choose which path to take on our own.
I used to be a person who got frustrated that God didn’t give more directions. Wouldn’t it be easier to just have someone tell us what to do? We shouldn’t just have to guess, right? That would make a whole lot of life just simpler. We could rely on God to decide for us. And also, it would help solve the whole human experience: Who is God? Why are we here? What happens after we die?
I mean, we would have so much more time on our hands, wouldn’t we? All of life’s questions could be answered, and we could just work the plan.
But going back to Lori Gottlieb in her office with her patients, wouldn’t we resent that? Wouldn’t we fight against someone telling us what to do all the time? Don’t we want to choose our own lives for our own selves?
I once heard Donald Miller talk about prayer in a podcast. I’m going to paraphrase what I remember him saying, but it was something like this: “Imagine going to dinner with your girlfriend and her dad, and you sit during the dinner and listen while your girlfriend tells her dad every decision she’s making, every relationship issue at hand, and every mistake she’s made over the past week. Then, her dad goes through point by point and tells her what she needs to do, how she needs to do it, and where she went wrong. Except, he doesn't come out and say those things specifically. He gives little clues that she has to figure out. Like a mental scavenger hunt. Would that sound like a good father and daughter relationship or would that sound a little controlling and crazy?”
If you ask me, it sounds controlling and crazy. I would rather sit at a dinner and watch my friend talk to her dad, and I would just want to listen to their conversation. The daughter might still mention everything going on in her life to her dad, but instead, I would want to listen to a back and forth of sharing and connection, of interest and reflection. Not of asking and receiving advice in convoluted answers.
Do we really want God to tell us what to do? Do we want him to just make all of the decisions for us? Or do we want a listening ear? A confident friend who can ask questions?
If you’re a parent like me, you probably think about how your kids are growing and learning. You wonder how they are handling their friends. You wonder what they worry about. You wonder if they are sleeping okay. You wonder about their future. You probably don’t worry too much about the little decisions they make, or if you do, you know you need to stop obsessing over them. But ultimately, you want your kids to make wise choices, love the people around them, and find a purpose in life.
On the days when I really believe in all of this, I’m not sure that God tells us what to do at all, and I’m not sure if he wants to. Sometimes, I think that our time of prayer and meditation is more about trust and reflection. It’s more of a time where we can be still enough, so that God can remind us who we are.
Faith is deeply personal and deeply inner-connected to our own experiences. I have friends at multiple points in their faith. I have friends who believe that God gives them the perfect parking spot when its needed most. I have friends who struggle to find God amidst an ever-growing pile of hard circumstances. I have friends who “let go and let God” and who will “understand it better by and by.” I have friends who pray for the sick and the hurting and who go to Bible class. I have friends who no longer believe in God for various reasons but who are afraid to admit it to others because it would risk losing their complete social circle. I have friends who reject all spirituality and only rely on their own sense of morality and conscience. I have friends who believe in Jesus and friends who don’t anymore. I try really hard not to get in their way in finding God.
Finding God isn’t a way to get all the answers to life’s questions. Searching for God doesn’t have to look the same for all of us. So, when I have friends that seem to be searching for answers or searching for God, I try not to offer advice. I try to ask more questions. I try to listen and encourage. I try to point towards reflection and meditation.
I try not to give advice.