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The Joys And Perils Of Unsolicited Advice

CC photo courtesy of cornflakegirl_ via Flickr
CC photo courtesy of cornflakegirl_ via Flickr

People have been giving advice, both welcome and unwelcome, since the dawn of time. The only difference between now and then is that now, you can not only receive advice from those in close geographical proximity, but you can literally gather pearls of wisdom via the Internet from the four corners of the earth, from every perspective known to man and in nearly all written languages.

And, frankly, it’s just too much to take in.

Whether you’re a mom or dad, divorced or never married without kids, there is a blog, article, podcast or infographic screaming its way through cyberspace to your everpresent pocket computer. Whatever your specific situation, Google has plenty to say. Add that to what your parents think, your roommates, your cousin and that passerby on the sidewalk, and your head just might explode. Even if they are well-meaning, sometimes people speak harsh or unneeded words into tender spaces that God is already working on, so we need to build an advice filter.

You’re about to enter the zone of irony—where I proceed to give you advice on how to take advice.

Take it with a grain of salt. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Check the words against the tensions held in Scripture. Acknowledge the tension. Acknowledge that some of the advice is contradictory.

Singles often waffle back and forth between thinking that their singleness is something they can manage and ameliorate, and the opposite point of view that there is nothing they can do about their marital status. Most advice that I receive falls somewhere on either side of that continuum. So approach dogmatic advice with care, grace and a cautious listening ear.

Don’t take advice from everyone. Take advice from just a few people and sources you trust. The rest of the articles, chats and solutions probably are worth hearing, but not absorbing. Glean for some nuggets of truth—something  encouraging or convicting—but keep on moving.

And, as sad as this sounds, it’s usually a good idea to analyze the advice in the context of the advice giver. A friend, co-worker, roommate, or your mom might not be coming at your situation from a biblical standpoint. Even if it is a mature Christian advising you, their prescription may be motivated by their own best interest or experience, however innocent their intentions.

In each of its 31 chapters, Proverbs exhorts people to be wise and seek counsel from others, but remember that Proverbs also lays the foundation and parameter of wisdom—the fear of the Lord.

Give yourself some grace. If you’re in a tense or new life situation, you may be in a place where you need serious counsel: professionally, spiritually, emotionally. Recognize that you are in a place where, more than anything, you need to be where the people of God are preaching the Gospel to you and you are rehearsing the Gospel in your own heart. If you’ve made a mistake, you might be in a place where you are beating yourself up for “doing it wrong” or “not following the rules.”

In those times, God gives us grace through those around us, but be prepared that Job’s accusatory friends might not be far behind. Jesus has provided grace for those times when you don’t know what to do and people’s advice seems trite and unhelpful.

Regardless of the circumstance (living with infertility, family instability, protracted singleness, a long-term illness, a disability or financial turmoil), formulaic advice stabs you in the gut. You’ve heard this before: “Don’t worry! Do X and Y, and Z will definitely be right around the corner.”

Jesus doesn’t have a canned answer for you, but He’s able to redeem the darkness, recalculate the formula, and provide you more than a tip, a trick or a master search term. Your Savior-friend doesn’t want to be your magic “8” ball in the sky, there for a quick answer. Jesus wants you to call His name and walk with Him just far enough for today.

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