Do you know someone who’s always hopeless or pessimistic? They’ve tried and failed. They tried again with a better plan or better people and the people, the plan, or both fell through. “Maybe, it’s just me.” they think. They look at the sky and see a half a cloud, so it must be about to pour, right? You plead with them – “It’s (insert your city or town). If you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes and it’ll change.”
“Wrong.” they say, listing all of the valid exceptions: “Lima, Peru – it never rains; Seattle, WA – always raining; and San Diego – always sunny and 72.”
You beg and reason with them until you’re blue in the face. You may even begin to question yourself in light of all the evidence they present. Maybe, you’ve even walked away from them for a season.
“You have a negative view of the past, of the present, and of the future. You feel that nothing is going to get better—that it’s terrible now and it’s going to stay this way the rest of your life,” says Dr. Archibald Hart.
“My life has always been rainy… There’s no hope. I’m a Seattle and all of my friends are San Diegos.” Hoplessness, shame, and pessimism are lies that affirm this: “the past = the future”. If that were true, why bother? But, we can bother. We are called to bother. Jesus died to dump hopelessness, shame, and pessimism in the lake of fire.
David asks God the tough questions throughout the Psalms about why the wicked prosper and prods at God “how long will you let… [this injustice continue]” Jeremiah models it, too, in 20.18:
“Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?”
The great news for your friend who is hopeless, burdened by shame, and weighed down by pessimism: Elijah, Moses, Job, Jonah, Jeremiah – great men of God all despaired for their lives. Yet, all saw miracles of God before their own eyes (or once they were out of the belly of the fish and could see something… Ah, you get the point.)
Silence is Golden: So, how do you handle your “mostly cloudy” friends?Know when words just won’t do. When Job lost everything… and then lost it all again… and again… His three friends started out on the right foot:
“Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. 2.13″
Sometimes, words are necessary. Other times, words are the worst thing to bring to the table. This is more art than science – advice from the Holy Spirit is more often than not the only true barometer.
Let Them Grieve without Giving Your Advice – when dealing with someone who’s stuck in the past, or even a present crisis, leaving your Home Depot/DIY apron in the truck is the rule of the day. As I grow wiser, I’m learning when my bride is hurting or just plain worn down by life that one of the most valuable questions I can ask is this:
“Are you telling me this because you’re seeking a solution or because you just need to vent?”
Men, this has kept my marriage on the rails more often than not – but it is wisdom for all kinds of relationships. Don’t let your talent at fixing things derail your ability to pastor a friend or confidant.
- Encourage Sincerely – When you’ve received permission to offer your opinion or advice, pray that God gives you the words to say and that you stay away from the Hallmark aisle of your brain. Nobody – I mean nobody – likes canned speeches and trite verses.
- Don’t Minimize the Past – “It’s really not that big a deal.” is incredibly an minimizing and impersonal way of saying “Your suffering is nothing.” Yes, we all need to weight our present suffering against the suffering of Christ on our behalf, but God is a personal God, not a God of facts. Take into account that everyone’s personal struggles are just that: personal. Minimizing their personal affects feels like you’re minimizing them.
- Point to Jesus – The most important bridge to build is from past or present pain to future hopes and dreams and only the death, resurrection and ransom of Christ offers us proof and assurance that the past does not equal the future. Fluffy, flowery Jesus talk doesn’t really help – see #3 – but, a real expression that we’re all stuck for now in this broken world, redeemed, and soon to be delivered is the only truth that can build that bridge.
You’re not their Messiah – a lot of times, we get hung up trying to solve their problem, rather than carrying the burden for a time. Keeping this in perspective is a crucial guardrail in staying out of the muck while pulling them out. Great lifeguards know you can’t save everyone, merely offer a steady hand to those who will accept it.
In a Genesis 3 world, we will all have trouble. But, Christ assures us in light of this He has overcome the world and will deliver us from our light and momentary troubles. Ultimately, we will one day meet Him at the Bema seat (2 Cor. 5.10) and be rewarded for the things we did in His power and crowns for the pains we suffered in the meantime.
Great rewards await… all who overcome.