It started with a couple of words.
I still remember siting in my kitchen and talking with one of my former roommates. We were discussing something pretty ordinary when he said two words which struck me deeply. He mentioned that a friend gave someone ‘unsolicited advice’.
While the words weren’t directed at me, it felt like a weight hit me right in the heart.
In that moment, I realized most of my previous advice to people had come out of my mouth unsolicited. They hadn’t made a particular request for it and sometimes hadn’t asked for it at all. This realization led me to attempt a new way of engaging with people and sharing my thoughts; I call it The New Christianese.
The term Christianese is usually used in a negative connotation. We use it to describe words that seem cliche and overused in Christian circles. These words or phrases don’t seem to have the authenticity of our day to day speech so many Christians tend to stray away from them.
I have mixed feelings on the subject because it’s not a good idea to criticize people for intentionally vocalizing their relationship with God and how they’re pursuing it. Instead of diving into the nitty gritty and trying to separate out the good and bad of current Christianese, I’m going to suggest an entirely new type of Christianese.
I propose this new type focuses on how we engage with people instead of the specific words we use.
For example, let’s ask for permission before we give other people advice. Take a second and imagine if someone asked ‘do you mind if I give you some advice?’ or ‘can I speak into this topic?’ before they gave their advice. Would you feel more comfortable talking with that person in the future?
When people ask me that, something inside me relaxes and the tension in the conversation eases. This is important for me because tension gets in the way of both my words and what others say to me. Whether I’m trying to use winsome words or listen to advice that doesn’t sound fun, there’s always tension in conversations that matter.
Asking permission to give advice or speak into a subject helps break down the tension because you’re knocking on the door instead of barging inside their heart. Every important conversation involves a connection between two people. While a conversation can be deep or shallow, it’s still a connection and it looks something like entering someone’s home.
Talking about the weather is kind of like standing on someone’s door step, asking about their family resembles sitting in their kitchen, and discussing their difficult past or current struggle corresponds to entering into their bedroom.
Unless you give them previous permission, it feels a little odd when someone walks into your house without permission. The same is even more true when they rummage through your kitchen. The worst offense comes when they walk into your room without asking.
On some level, all three of these tend to make people feel uncomfortable. In the same way, giving people unsolicited advice, even when it’s good advice, makes people uncomfortable. I would get a little upset if a friend walked into my room and started cleaning it.
While I would appreciate them helping out, I would also wonder why they felt the need to clean and what they thought about my room and my cleanliness in general. Similar thoughts cross our mind when someone gives us unsolicited advice, we’ve just grown accustomed to them because almost everyone gives unsolicited advice or keeps their mouth shut. As Christians, we have an awesome opportunity to look different from the world and be a light in the midst of darkness.
Bloggers, political pundits, along with friends and family create a waterfall of unsolicited advice which can make people feel like someone kicked the door in and invited other people to have a party in their house. When we ask people for permission to give advice or speak into a topic, it will create a stark contrast between us and the rest of the world. We can become gracious guests in the hearts of other people.
I challenge you this week to find one conversation in which you ask for permission before you start speaking into a person’s life. Their permission doesn’t mean you should be rude or overly critical, it does mean you should respect any kind of permission they give you. Whether they keep you on the doorstep of their hearts or show you the smelly mess persisting in their heart’s bedroom, attempt to recreate the same grace and politeness you show when invited into a real home.
If you complete the challenge, answer these questions.
-Did the person’s body language change after you asked permission?
-Did they seem more relaxed or more tense afterwards?
-Has that person acted differently towards you since the conversation?
It’s important to note that I didn’t come up with the idea of asking permission to give advice. I learned this awesome lesson from my church. They teach us the most loving and gracious ways to navigate difficult conversations. I wouldn’t be nearly as good at engaging with people if it weren’t for them.
Image Copyright: Rocky Mortonby