The First Place to Start
When I first started to volunteer as a marriage mentor at my church, I felt like I had something to say. My wife and I had struggled in our own marriage and we were able to repair it. I did have some firsthand experience.
We wanted to expand our knowledge, so we studied what the bible said about relationships. We started to read books by Dr. John Gottman, Gary Chapman, Dave Carter, Cloud / Townsend, etc. We also started to teach a marriage course at our church.
Then, I ran into people that had issues I hadn’t personally experienced. Things like addictions, depression and deep triggers.
I tried to use the information we had studied to rush in with good advice. We failed miserably.
I had read Galatians 6 in the past, but I didn’t know how to apply it. I want to break down what I learned from this.
“Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Let each one examine his own work. Then he can take pride in himself and not compare himself with someone else. For each one will carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:1-5 NET Bible).
It says in Galatians that if you discover someone is sinning, you should restore the person. That was the message I first got from this passage. I totally missed the gentleness message.
It caused me to run in with bible passages and advice telling people how to act. I don’t think people found this to be gentle.
Gentleness is in the experience of the person that you are working with. Do they feel that you are gentle? Do they feel that you are safe? Do they want to be honest and vulnerable with you?
If not, are you being gentle?
Galatians says that you should be careful not to be tempted. At first, I thought that I needed to be careful to not be tempted to do the unhealthy behaviors that they were doing. In other words, if they were being critical of one another, I might be tempted to be critical as well.
Actually, the passage says not to think too highly of yourselves. Be honest about your own failures.
This is the importance of being broken yourself. When I learned that I can’t meet with someone thinking that I know everything and that I’m better in some way. I may not have experienced their particular issue, but I also haven’t had their background and their experiences. I relate to the saying, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
Galatians says to carry one another’s burdens. The word empathy sums this up nicely.
This is the capacity to feel what another person is experiencing. You help them to carry their burden. You may not agree with them, but you work to see life through their eyes and from their perspective.
Brene Brown has a great video on empathy. She contrasts empathy and sympathy. She talks about someone being in a deep hole. Empathy is getting in the hole with them and saying, “I know what it feels like to be here.” Sympathy is someone shouting down from the top of the hole and trying to cheer someone up.
I know that when I demonstrate empathy to people, they feel like I’m helping to carry their burden. They feel that I’m being gentle.
When I am mentoring a couple that is struggling, it’s so tempting to compare myself with others. When I do, I usually end up being judgmental. Then, I am tempted to rush in with advice to fix their situation.
This is not being empathetic.
People heal far better when you first demonstrate gentleness, brokenness and empathy. Is there a time for truth and advice? Sure, but not if you haven’t first understood life from their perspective and helped to carry their emotional burdens.
Jesus came not to condemn, but to give life (John 3:17, John 10:10).
Tips for Marriage Mentors:
- Be Gentle – If they don’t feel that you are being gentle, you may not be.
- Be Broken – Take the attitude that you are no better than they are and you too have vulnerabilities.
- Be Empathetic – Carry their burdens for a time.
- Don’t Compare – When you start to compare yourself to others, you risk coming across as superior. You don’t become a safe person for them.