Confession: I don’t like negative emotions, and I’ve often been known to swoop in and rescue someone from their rightful feelings.
When a friend’s heart is broken, I want to rescue her. When she is discouraged, I want to offer encouragement. When she is lonely, I want to come alongside.
And sometimes that’s not what I should do. Sometimes I should just leave well enough alone.
I have just found a connection in the Bible that leads me to conclude that maybe, just maybe, it’s not always my role to rescue, encourage, and uplift. Maybe, a person needs to feel what they feel, and I shouldn’t step in to keep them from those feelings, however miserable they may be.
You guys, this is revolutionary. This not exactly my go-to response, to let someone sit in their own mess. But I’m learning a new conviction that it might sometimes be best to keep my distance.
Look at the woman caught in adultery.
The authorities bring her to Jesus, after she has been caught in adultery – literally ‘caught in the act.’ (And, if I may be so bold to question the culture of the time, I’ve always wondered where was the man in that story, because a person doesn’t cheat on her husband without someone to cheat with.) They bring her to Jesus, asking him to pronounce his judgment and allow them to follow the law. They wanted permission to throw rocks at her until her body was destroyed, and they wanted to do it publicly so that no single person would be responsible for her death. It would be a group decision.
And then Jesus draws his famous line in the sand. He invites them to step forward – and sure enough – throw the first stone, but only if they have never, ever done anything they are ashamed of. They realized that they perhaps had issues of their own that they’d rather not have dragged into the street, and one by one they left.
The story says the oldest left first, followed by the younger, which just goes to show how humility comes with age. The older you are, the more you realize how much you truly don’t know. They walk away, and they leave her alone with Jesus.
Now look at the Samaritan woman at the well.
She came to draw her water at the middle of the day, knowing nobody would be there at the hottest hour. She knows everyone hates her, both because of where she’s from and because of her choices with men. She’s been convinced that she is worthless, worthy only of judgement. She’s well aware of the decisions she’s made to bring her to this place of loneliness, and she just wants to be alone in her discouragement.
When Jesus asked her to draw water from the well, he makes an unprecedented request. I’ve read this sobering parallel: if we compare that culture in terms of our own, this would be as if a Chick-Fil-A supporter walked into a gay bar and offered to buy a man a drink.
It’s not likely to happen.
And if it did, the man might respond with laughter. “Don’t you know who I am? Do you know anything at all about the social debates and decsisions? I’m pretty sure you don’t actually know the implications of what you’re doing right now, so let’s do each other a favor and pretend this didn’t happen.”
But Jesus knew what he was doing, he knew the social hot buttons, and he didn’t leave quietly when she offered him an exit from this political and social faux paus. He stays right there. He shows her that she matters, he already knows her secrets, and she doesn’t have to wear the labels the world has slapped on her.
But here’s the thing about each of these women: Each one was by herself when Jesus gave her the freedom she needed.
He didn’t say, “Now, go and gather some friends and plan a girls’ night to take your mind off everything. You know what you need? You just need to have some fun, feel like people still like you, and move forward as if you haven’t hurt their trust.”
He didn’t say, “Now that we’ve discussed this, go ahead and sign on to social media and write some kind of obscure status in 140 characters or less, but please be sure to make it just vague enough to get their attention but not really enough to call you to vulnerability.”
He didn’t say those things. He didn’t invite anyone else to rescue, uplift, encourage, or end her loneliness. He waited until she was alone with him, and then he showed her what to do next.
I’ll be the first to agree that this isn’t the typical modus operandi for Jesus’ interactions with the people he loves. More times than not, he draws them into community, introduces them to one another, calls them to love and support each other, and reminds them that their strength comes in unity. I would say 99% of the time, that’s what he wants us to do.
But there are a couple of times when he lets the depression and loneliness have its moment before he gets involved.
And this has left me thinking that maybe God wants me to be quiet sometimes, and just leave well enough alone.
Sometimes, the answers come in the darkness. And if I shine my light because it will make feel better to see someone else’s relief, then I’ve only delivered a shallow, feeble, superficial, temporary flash in the pan.
Sometimes, its not my job to make the darkness go away. It’s possible that my voice could get in the way.