Hey, my friends. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another.
My name is Kari Bartkus and I’m a spiritual director for women who are going through difficult seasons where they are really seeking God’s presence and voice in their lives. And part of my work is also to help you come alongside others who are hurting. Maybe they are grieving the loss of a loved one, or they are struggling with one of their children, or going through a divorce. It doesn’t matter what kind of situation they are going through, you want to care for them through it.
But there are times when we are caring for others—or when they are caring for us—when something rubs us the wrong way.
Maybe they say something to us.
Maybe it’s their tone of voice when they say something to us.
Maybe we can’t even identify what it is, exactly, but we know it doesn’t sit well with us.
Let’s be honest… this happens even when we’re not caring for others, right? But I’ve found that when we are interacting with someone we love, especially when we are trying to help them, we can be more sensitive to these kinds of things.
So today I just want to tackle this issue head on and help us figure out what we can do about it.
And the approach that I take probably isn’t going to be what you think it’s going to be.
Because I’m going to encourage you to… reflect on it.
Now, if you have listened to other episodes or have worked with me in any way, you know that I am big into reflection. So maybe that part wasn’t such a big surprise. But before I advise you to do anything about it, I just want you to think about it.
I learned this from a mentor of mine, Lacy Borgo, who taught my Spiritual Direction with Children course. She invited us to, “Learn to linger with what provokes you.”
Now, I actually shared that quote on Instagram a little while ago, and it seemed to resonate with a lot of you. Some of you said, “This is exactly what I needed to hear today” and “Definitely doing that this week.”
But let’s go ahead and unpack it a little bit, and then I’ll share some specific examples at the end.
What does it look like to linger with something that provokes you, as Lacy encourages us to do?
Identify What Provoked You
First, we need to identify what it is that provokes us.
Maybe it frustrates you, or it makes you angry. I imagine it as being something that “pokes” you, in a way. It’s irritating. It’s unexpected. It’s a prick you weren’t expecting. It stirs up anger or some other strong emotion within you. Something that wasn’t there before.
For example, there was a time when a friend of mine referred to me as “kid.” Like, he said something to me and called me “kid.” Something like, “I’ll see you later, kid.”
And it didn’t sit well with me. It wasn’t anger, necessarily, but it made my eyes tear up a bit, you know?
Maybe for you, it’s when you are bringing a meal to someone and they ask about all the stuff you didn’t bring—the plates, the condiments, the dessert—stuff that maybe you didn’t realize you were supposed to bring.
Or maybe it’s when you’re leading a grief support group at church and someone who just told you how much that group meant to them has stopped showing up.
Maybe you’re on the phone with someone and they don’t necessarily say anything wrong, but there’s something about their tone of voice that irritates you just a little bit.
Whatever it is, identify the action or behavior that provokes you. Be as specific as you can: is it a word they used, their tone of voice, the roll of their eyes, the timing of the communication or behavior, the lack of response, their interaction with you compared to their interaction with someone else?
Press Pause on Your Reaction
Second, try to press pause on your natural reaction. When we are provoked, we are often stirred to respond in some way right then and there, without thinking. Now, if this has already passed, you obviously can’t do much about it, but if it is happening in the moment, try not to lash out at them or make some snarky comment or something like that. You can acknowledge to yourself how you might want to respond, but try to slow down your reaction so you have time to sort through what is going on inside your soul.
In my example, I didn’t know about all this when my friend called me “kid,” but looking back, and honestly, just knowing myself, I tend to close off when I get upset. I withdraw and try to separate myself from the other person. Pressing pause might look like letting go of whatever provoked you, not mentioning it, until you’ve had time to think about it.
Pressing pause could take just a minute or two, or it could take a day or two. It really depends on the situation and what happened.
Linger with the Feeling
Third, linger with that feeling, that behavior for a few minutes. Ask God to help you name what it is, exactly, that provoked you.
You can do that by journaling about it, free writing until something appears on your page that indicates why it was a big deal to you. But I also know that sometimes we need some help exploring. So here are some questions that can help you narrow it down:
Are you worried about something?
Has a value of yours been stepped on?
Do you feel like you or someone else you care about has gotten slighted or ignored?
Do you feel rejected or betrayed?
Does it remind you of something that has happened before?
In my example, I realized it bothered me because I had considered my friend and I as peers, even though he was really a few years older than me. And actually, when we first met, he said that even though I was younger, I was someone he looked to. And that really meant a lot to me. So when he called me “kid,” I felt like I was being pushed back down below peer level, if that makes sense. I was no longer equal with him, but lower.
What is it, exactly, about that behavior or action that isn’t sitting well with you?
Discern If You Need to Do Anything
Finally, once you’re able to name why that action or behavior provoked you, you can then discern if there is something you need to do about it.
Now, did my friend intentionally mean to demean our friendship? Probably not. It’s always good to give someone the benefit of the doubt when you can. And so I tried not to let it impact the way I interacted with him. (Okay, so kind of a tangent, but… How many of you, you merely dream about someone doing something mean to you and when you wake up, you’re all mad at them? Anyone?)
To be honest, those next few times I saw my friend, I had to intentionally remind myself that he likely didn’t mean anything by it and to let it go. It was hard. But it didn’t happen again. If it had, I would have had to think about how I needed to respond.
Do you need to do anything in response to being provoked by someone else? Maybe, maybe not. That’s something you can talk to God about.
Here are some other examples that come to mind, especially when it comes to caring for someone we love who might be hurting:
- You are always the one who initiates the text messages or the phone calls.
- They continually decline your offer to help.
- They accept your help but make it clear they don’t want you there.
- They accept help from others but not from you.
- They want your help and only your help; they won’t let others in, making you feel like you have to do it all alone.
- You realize that while they share their struggles and life with you, they are not open to listening to you and hear about what is going on in your life; it becomes all about them.
- They have shared something personal or important with someone else but have forgotten or neglected to share it with you, and you hear about it from a third party.
- They belittle whatever advice you offer, even after they asked you for that advice.
You guys, I have experienced all of these, and more. Caring for others who are hurting can be hard. And we’re going to have chances to grow in our character and in our walk with the Lord. Because we’re going to get hurt in the process.
That’s why it’s so important for us to be aware of why these things bother us, for us to consider our motivation for helping or what might be going on beneath the surface, so that we can bring our best to our loved ones and be able to walk through their season of hurt with them.
Knowing what we can control and what we can’t.
Caring for them.
So they know they are not alone.
So they know they matter to us.
Like Lacy invited me to do, so I invite you: learn to linger with what provokes you. Identify the specific behavior that bothers you, press pause on your response, and prayerfully consider what it was that struck you the wrong way.
Linger with it.
Sit with it.
Mull it over.
And talk to God about it, letting Him bring healing to those places in your soul that need it.
If you want to learn more about lingering and slowing down and paying attention to what is going on around you, today is the last day to sign up for the Writing with God online retreat. It will be three hours of guided writing practices that lead us closer to God and learning to recognize His presence and movement in our lives. You can learn more and sign up at lovedoesthat.org/writingwithGod.
Okay, my friends, that’s all for today. Until next time…
- Episode 14: How to Respond When a Friend Won’t Let You Help
- Episode 27: The Cost of Caring for Others
- Episode 43: When Helping Hurts: Establishing Boundaries When Caring for Others with Counselor Nicole Fryling
INTERESTED IN WRITTEN SPIRITUAL DIRECTION?
I’d be honored to walk with you through a difficult season and help you discover God’s presence and work in your life.