One relationship principle I’ve come to appreciate over time is the power of giving people the gift of hope when they have so little of it themselves.
It’s when you burn brightly with hope for others when their own hope is but a dying ember.
In several recent episodes, I shared a response from one of our listeners who wrote about feeling overwhelmed at how to develop relationships. She said she has no friends and is lonely. The hope she has for things ever getting any better is but a dim flicker.
In today’s episode, the last of season seven, I share what it looks like to give people the gift of hope.
But before we get into today’s episode, here’s what this podcast is all about.
Welcome to You Were Made for This
If you find yourself wanting more from your relationships, you’ve come to the right place. Here you’ll discover practical principles you can use to experience the life-giving relationships you were made for.
I’m your host, John Certalic, award-winning author and relationship coach, here to help you find more joy in the relationships God designed for you.
To access all past and future episodes, go to the bottom of this page to the yellow “Subscribe” button, then enter your name and email address in the fields above it. The episodes are organized chronologically and are also searchable by topics, categories, and keywords.
Season seven ends today with episode 200
Before we get into today’s show, I want to remind you that today’s episode concludes season 7 of You Were Made for This.
I will be taking a break from the podcast for a time to work on several projects to serve you better. They will be focused on ways to deepen our relationships and finding the joy God intends for us in them. The joy of relationships is the “this” we were all made for.
Even though the podcast will go dark for a while until season 8 begins, I’d like to continue sharing with you what I’m working on in the meantime. I’d like to tell you about articles and information I come across I think you would find interesting and helpful in nurturing your relationships.
I’ll be doing this with occasional emails to you. If you’ve been getting my email each Wednesday about that week’s podcast episode, you are good to go. But if you’re not getting my Wednesday email, then you’re not on my email list. To get on it, just go to johncertalic.com/follow to leave your email address.
Okay. So much for this housekeeping matter and on to today’s program.
A listener who needs the gift of hope
Here’s what the listener I’m calling “Emily” (not her real name) wrote in response to episode 063. This is the one about building relationships by being more curious about people. She came across this episode 2½ years after it first aired. Listen as I read her comments about it.
“I found this page because I was trying to do some research into what is ‘wrong with me.’
“I grew up in a very strict and often abusive household, where it was constantly drilled into my head that if people wanted you to know things, they would tell you. And I was made to feel stupid for asking anything that should be “obvious.” We were basically shamed out of our curiosity as kids and taught to accept everything at face value without asking any questions.
“Now almost 40 years old, I’m so frustrated by the fact that I don’t have any real, close friendships.
“I don’t know how to be curious about people, and even when I want to be I have no idea what to ask. It feels like I don’t even know how personal relationships work. I don’t know how often you’re supposed to reach out to people, exactly what parts of their lives you should be involved in, or how often to reach out… it sounds so silly but it’s my reality! I don’t know how to make and keep friends.
“I’m sure I come off as selfish and self-centered… But really I just don’t know how all this works and I get overwhelmed by it.”
Our listeners respond
In recent episodes, I asked you and the rest of our listening audience how you would respond to Emily if they were sitting across from her in a coffee shop for a conversation about her situation. I’ll have links to those episodes at the bottom of today’s show notes.
In those episodes, I share what your fellow listeners would say to Emily. There were some very good responses. One that came in recently was from Chris, a listener in Wisconsin. You can read his wise feedback in the comments section of episode 198. You can find it at the bottom of the show notes for that episode.
I also have a few comments to make about Emily’s concern, but first I thought you’d like to hear what our executive producer, and my boss, Carol Steward, has to say. Carol, as you may recall, is the voice you hear introducing each episode of our podcast. She was my wife’s roommate in college, and we have been friends for over 50 years. Most importantly, she was the one who first told us about Jesus when we were 19-year-old freshmen. I talk more about Carol in episode 021, The Most Important Relationship of All.
Carol was the one who gave Janet and me the gift of hope so many years ago.
Listen now to what she had to say recently about Emily and having a conversation with her in a coffee shop:
Many of us have people like “Emily” in our lives
Hi John: I was on my treadmill listening to your podcast. It resonated with me and someone whom I know that said to me once, “I don't tell people anything unless they ask me about something.”
She has told me that she had been abused in several relationships, and I think that this has precipitated her unwillingness to be open and free with conversation. I'm thinking that she thinks the less she talks about herself, the less it will be twisted or used against her.
Is that what your “Emily” may have been feeling? Of course, we don't know because we can't ask her that. But I do know that abuse creates fear in the abused.
My heart goes out to her. So the best I can offer an answer to what you asked of me, is if you want to get to know “Emily”, get to know her the same way you would get to know a 4 or 5-year-old. Be light-hearted, and just enjoy the moment with her. . . . no expectations, no big questions, just enjoy the time. If the conversation only gets as far as, “Have you ever come to this coffee shop before?” and, “What do you like about this coffee?” All good. It's a start, and you can build on it the next time you get together.
A gift of hope starts with wise words
So I didn't answer your question, did I? I told you what I would do in conversation with her. So here's my shot at an answer:
“Since you're at the coffee shop Emily, know that I’m here because I want to be there with you or else I would not have shown up. So ask me about my family–ages? interests? plans for the summer? Start with that and listen. Occasionally you could say, ‘Tell me more.’ All relationships start with get-to-know questions. If that's hard for you, go to the questions of the moment, ‘Have you ever been to this coffee shop before?’ and ‘What do you like about this coffee?’”
My Response to Emily
When I first received Emily’s response to episode 063 about being more curious about people, I sent her an email saying something along the lines that I’m sorry she’s having to deal with the relational difficulties she mentioned, and how they’re causing such loneliness in her life. I offered to talk with her about these things.
I never heard back from her.
Maybe she didn’t get the email. Or maybe she wanted to wait a while before responding and then lost my email address. There could be other reasons, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. That being said, I have a few ideas I would use in talking with someone like Emily in a coffee shop. It starts with my goal.
My goal would NOT be to fix her problem, or even to make her feel better. My goal would be to reflect the image of God well in talking with her. We’re all made in the image of God, as the Bible tells us in the Book of Genesis. What would God want for Emily is a question I’d ask myself.
I would start by building a level of trust with her, which comes from validating her feelings and showing compassion. I would listen well, setting aside anything weighing on me at the moment, so I could focus on Emily. Part of listening well is asking good questions, especially follow-up questions in response to what she says.
With people struggling with relational issues like Emily, I often find myself asking them “where do you see God in your situation?” It’s a way of pointing people to Jesus, to eventually find the gift of hope found in Him, and seeing how He is at work in whatever circumstance a person is facing.
Another thing I would eventually like to get to is the issue of choices. Even be so bold as after listening well and being compassionate and empathetic, to ask Emily something along the lines of, “So, given your situation, what are you going to do about it?” If what she’s doing isn’t working what can you do differently, Emily?
And then let her come up with ideas. If she has a hard time answering this question I’d ask, “Emily the people you see who have good relationships; what do they do? What could you copy from them?
In dealing with relational difficulties, people have more choices than they often realize. Talking things through as I’m suggesting will often help reveal those choices. As people begin to see more choices available to them, they begin to find hope that things could change for the better.
I have a hunch that the skills Emily developed as a child living with her dysfunctional family are skills she continues to use as an adult. But these are skills that are no longer needed or appropriate in healthy relational environments. She needs to learn new relational skills, and discard the old ones. That’s my hunch anyway.
There’s so much more that can be said about giving people like Emily the gift of hope that things can improve in their relationships. What you’ve heard from your fellow listeners and from me is just the tip of the iceberg to help get you started.
So what does all this mean for YOU?
I bet you’ve run across people like Emily in your life. When you do, it’s wise to ask yourself HOW you can best reflect the character and image of God with that person. And then not thwart the work of the Holy Spirit in their life.
Doing this can take so many different directions that it takes Godly wisdom to know which path to follow. So pray for wisdom at times like this.
If you forget everything else from today’s episode, here’s the one thing I hope you remember
Caring well for people means at times giving them the gift of hope. To help them see the hope found in knowing Jesus is at work in their life. It’s to burn brightly with hope for them when their own hope is a dying ember.
Finally, as I mentioned at the beginning of this episode, I want to stay in touch with you from time to time while I take a break from this podcast before season eight begins.
If you’re on my email list, I’ll let you know when I’m ready with new episodes to start the next season. I’ll also send you information from time to time I come across that I think you would find interesting and helpful in nurturing your relationships.
But if you’re not getting my Wednesday email already, you’re not on my email list. To get on it, just go to johncertalic.com/follow to get on the list.
I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show to think about how you can reflect the character and image of God in helping people find the gift of hope in their relationship with Jesus.
Well, that’s it for today – and for season seven of this podcast. If there’s someone in your life you think might like to hear what you just heard, please forward this episode to them. Scroll down to the bottom of the show notes and click on one of the options in the yellow “Share This” bar.
I look forward to being in your ears when I’m ready to launch season eight. But until then, don’t forget to spread a little relational sunshine around the people you meet this week. Spark some joy for them. And I’ll see you again next time in season eight. Goodbye for now.
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