I have enjoyed reading Side by Side by Edward T Welch. The book identifies the skills we need to help one another. It is intended for everyone - friends, parents and even neighbours. It is fair to say that I did not really come across anything that I thought was new. However, there are some much needed reminders. Here are some things I want to keep remembering:
1. Those who help best are the one who both need help and give help. A healthy community is dependent on all of us being both, as Welch wonderfully puts it:
"Your neediness qualifies you to help others. Your neediness, offered well to someone else, can eben be the one of the great gifts you give to your church. You will inspire others to ask for help...We spend too much time concealing our needeines. We need to stop hiding. Being needy is our basic condition. There is no shame in it - its just the way it is. Understanding this, accepting it, and practising it will make you a better helper".
2. Our emotions point out those things which are most important to us. So instead of ignoring how we feel, what we should be asking is: what is my heart really saying to me? What do I live for that I do not have? Here is how Welch beautifully summarises it:
"[Emotions] usually proceed from our hearts, are given shape by our bodies, reflect the quality of our relationships, bear the etchings of both the goodness and the meaninglessness of work, provide a peak into how we fare in spiritual battle, and identify what we really believe about God."
3. One of the great obstacles to prayer is that we want to be perceived as competent and in control. What will help us ask for prayer is to remember that that we are by nature spiritually needy and God's plan is that we turn both to him and to other people for help. It is important not only to know we need prayer but also how to ask for prayer from others. Here is what Welch suggests:
"We [must] for prayer about both cirmstances and matters of the heart that sit below the surface, for things seen and things unseen....first, we must put our burdens into words. Second, we attach words of scripture that capture both our real needs and God's purposes and promises. That, is we pray for what we know our Father wants to give us".
4. A crucial part of helping others is having thoughtful conversations with them. When we talk with people we should aim to learn what is important to the person we are talking to. Which is simply another way of saying, we want to hear what is on their heart. So we need to focus on listen for what is dear, what is loved, what is feared and what is hard for that person. We want to listen for how they feel. As Welch puts it:
"We listen for signs of life. A question about holidays might reveal the pleasure or pain of gathering with extended family. A question about health can reveal thankfulness or fear. So we keep our ears open for detauls that are important to someone. This may sound clinical, but its not. Its what you do naturally when you are interested in someone. You follow the affections. You follow what excites, what is prized, and what is hard".
5. A mark of a good listerner is that they help us tell our stories . Welch observes that most conversations consists of one person telling a personal story and the other matching that story. There is nothing wrong with that. It is good to share experiences. But it is not communication. It is basically us saying, "okay, enough about you, let's talk about me". That is no credible way to help others. According to Welch, here is what we need to remember to avoiding making this terrible mistake:
"Love naturally moves to what is important in someone's story and follows up...When we care about someone, we are alerted to what is troubling, most exciting, most anticipated, and most desired. We listen even more catefully when strong emotions such as anger, fear, shame, sadness and grief are evident. We might notice word pictures. Terms such as weighted down, drowing, darkness, alone, and walking on air willtell you a lot".
6. When our friends are hurting, it more important to know what not to say that what to say. We are to tempted to respond to someone's suffering with thoughtless platitudes. The first culprit is saying, "it could be worse". The antidote to this is remember that God does not compare our present suffering to anyone else's or to worst-case scenarios. The second culprit is saying, "God will work this together for God". The antidote is to remember suffering is not an intellectual problem that needs answers. It is a fundamentally a relational matter that may not make full sense to us this side of heaven. The third culprit is saying, "if you need anything please call me". Welch says it is better to be more specific and just say, "Wbat can I do to help?". Or even better, we could consider what needs to be done. I have just fallen foul of the third culprit earlier in the day. So it is good to write this down this reminder! According to Welch, here is what is bizarre about our unhelpful platitudes to the suffering:
"The oddity of our cliumsy and sometimes hurtful attempts to help is this: we have clear ideas from what has helped us in our suffering, but we do not adopt it when seeking to love others. We do not always speak to others in the way we would like to be spoken to".
7. As we walk alongside other perople we need to remember that messy nature of growth and change. Often the process of change might be hard to see at first. Spiritual growth follows the pattern we see all around us. Growth is barely perceptible fromday to day. We see this in children. Sometimes they seem not be making progress at all. But as we observe them month to month we see how far they have grown. The parable of the secret growing seed comes to mind. Here is a wonderful example Welch gives in the book to illustrate this:
Jim gave himself to alchol for a decade. The reason he went to rehable and some AA meetings was that his wife was done threatening and was packing up to leave. In all that turmoil, he became a follower of Jesus. But he was confused. Nothing magical happened. He woke up the next day with the same cravings and temptations. Where, he wondered, was the power of God? A couple of wise friends noticed his despair. In response they were able to point out spiritual power in his life. Since he had changed spiritual allegiances, he had been crying out in prayer, and he had been doing that every day. In other words, he was needy, which is a glorious step to be more fully human, as God intended. "Help" spoken to the Lord is power.