How do I relate to people who are tempted in ways I do not feel tempted by? How can I show Christ’s love in that situation? Also, what is the difference between judgement and discernment? Sometimes, it feels from the Christian community to be one and the same with different connotations.
Hey my dear friend, I really appreciate you asking about this because I almost never hear this question. I’m thankful for your sincere heart in this.
There are many Christians I meet today who try really hard to act like they’ve been through it all so they can relate to everyone — and I’m guilty of this too. It seems there’s a new fear in church where if you haven’t been through a ridiculously prodigal phase of debauchery, then you’re somehow not qualified to counsel anyone else either.
I remembering being in a crowd of Christians once where they were comparing their former lives — how many shots they could do, all the drugs they sold, cars they wrecked, even abortions they had — and while I understand it was painful for them, I also felt like they were glamorizing some of these things to gain street cred. I noticed some of the ones who grew up in church their whole lives were either jealous or discouraged, because they felt sheltered from all these “real” experiences.
But let’s balance this out.
1) I’m jealous of sheltered people too. If you grew up in church your whole life and you’ve loved Jesus as long as you can remember, please consider yourself blessed. Those of us who are free from toxic lifestyles are always in recovery, and it’s not as glamorous as our storytelling appears to be.
2) A broken person like me needs those who have never been through what I’ve been through. I understand that recovering alcoholics and addicts need other recovering friends to know how to fight. But if we only have these kinds of friends, then we can easily enable each other or get tempted through our weakness.
When I quit porn, I went to a friend who had never struggled with porn (and those kinds of dudes are almost impossible to find). His innocence with the whole thing was exactly the perspective I needed: because his utter lack of struggle in that area showed me the true size of the temptation. It really took the fangs off. There’s also a different sort of strength from the purity of a person who has been relatively clean their entire lives.
3) No one is “more saved” than someone else. The former heroin dealer who used to beat up kittens and race cops has a cool story, sure. But when he was changed by Jesus, he’s just as much a miracle as the pastor’s daughter who heard the Gospel her whole life and accepted Jesus at youth camp. Neither has more “social capital” than the other. They might relate to different groups of people, but they don’t need a badge of baggage to help anyone.
Having said all that, I think we need some humility on both sides.
- When we hear someone else’s addiction or affliction, we can’t cringe or flinch or turn up our nose. Resist it. All of us are just as broken and ill and damaged as one another before the sight of God, and He loved us anyway.
- A serious addict also shouldn’t get spiritually snobby with a squeaky clean person. Everyone can learn from anyone. I can learn from a five year old and an eighty-five year old, from the rich and poor, from men and women, from simply watching. It just depends how much I’m willing to be teachable. I don’t ever want to cut off a person just because they’re not “cool enough” to hang with my bad side. That would be condescending and arrogant and horribly shortsighted.
- Relating to someone’s life experience is no guarantee that you can automatically help them. None. It’s not like I instantly relate to every single Asian with divorced parents and depression and a former porn addiction. Friendship and discipleship and fellowship are all built on so much more than mutual struggles.
- The best way we can relate to one another is by listening. I know this sounds super-obvious. But my fiancé, who is almost the complete opposite of me in every way, is one heck of a listener. She listens so well that she makes me a better listener. And even though we’re so different, she’s my best friend because she cares about everything I’m going through, whether she can grasp it or not.
I can appreciate even the effort of another person really trying to understand. Please know that there is an ocean-deep power in simply sitting with someone, making eye contact, keeping your phone away, asking questions, offering truth with grace, and encouraging them the whole time. There’s no right formula or correct mix of words. This power of presence means way more than you could know: and it might not feel like you’re helping, but being there already means you are.
To answer your other question about judgement versus discernment:
- Judging someone always rips them apart. It’s spiritually murdering a person through self-righteousness by concluding, “I would never do that” — when of course, any one of us is capable of the genocide in Rawanda and looting in a hurricane.
But discernment is always looking out for the best of everyone. I think when the church says “discernment,” we seem to mean, “Turn on a spiritual X-ray and approach with extreme caution.” Maybe it’s supposed to mean that a little bit. But when discernment is just looking out for negatives, that’s a stalemate with no purpose or direction. So-called discernment without an eye to healing is just prejudice.
When I discern someone has an issue, I want to see them as God does: with compassion and a vision and with good will. Sometimes this means backing up because you’re likely to enable that person. Other times it will mean intervening, even harshly, because love means much more than being nice.
If your friend is struggling hard, please consider:
- Asking the why question.
- Not interrupting, but letting them paint their whole story.
- RTP: Rock The Prayer. You can say, “I’ll pray for you,” but it’s also awesome to pray right on the spot.
- Suggesting help outside of you. It’s okay if you’re not equipped to help with some serious issues. You can go with them too.
- Drawing clear boundaries. They can’t see you as a savior, and you can’t be one either.
- Sharing. Bible verses, sermon podcasts, blog posts, good books, funny videos, and your own insight. When you get excited by something you see or read or hear, share it.
- Having a good time. Sometimes your friend just needs a hamburger and Haagen Dazs ice cream and a comedy from Redbox and a bike trail. Not every conversation has to revolve around recovery, and it’s okay to giggle at dumb things and talk crazy and geek out over fandoms.
- Praying on your own. You’ll need strength too. Much love to you, my friend. You’re a kind heart for caring this much.