"But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."
— James 3:17-18
"Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws."
— Tim Keller
When I became a mother, I was added to about a dozen Facebook groups. Some existed to sell toys and used clothes, some to connect with other local moms, others were devoted specifically to breastfeeding, but my favorite group was just an open forum for Christian moms to connect and offer each other prayer, support, and advice. Recently I have been more grieved by this group than encouraged by it. It seems to have become a venting ground for moms to unload their frustrations with their husbands, their mothers-in-law, and their children. Every post of this type ends the same way, essentially begging for others to affirm how right she is and how wrong her husband, children, or in-laws may be. I'm not as grieved by these posts as I am by the responses, which consistently do exactly that. At first it just feels good to vent, and it may even feel right to respond with validation. But there is such danger here.
THE DANGER OF COMMISERATION
Commiseration is driven by feelings and fueled by experience. Its goal is your happiness and so its authority is your comfort over God's word. It excuses you from any response that may be difficult and encourages you instead to let your actions be dictated by your feelings.
You're right! Your mother in law is the worst! You should put her in her place.
Ugh. Men are worthless. I would just stop doing anything for his lazy self.
My kids do stuff like this all the time. I just yell and cry back at them. Brats.
Although it may feel good in the moment to have someone identify with you, don't mistake this form of authenticity for life giving community. Commiseration leads to self-pity. It reinforces how hard whatever you are experiencing is without any sort of caveat to love anyway or to do the hard thing. It leaves you wallowing and feeling sorry for yourself. It follows that commiseration will also lead to hatred. That word may feel harsh, but as your victimization is reinforced, you inevitably give yourself permission to think of your husband, children, or in-laws as perpetrators. Demonizing them excuses you from having to love them, which inevitably leaves you more isolated than you began. At best, this will lead to fractured or passive aggressive relationships. At worst, it will lead to estrangement.
THE BEAUTY OF WISE COUNSEL
Wise Counsel prioritizes God's word above feelings. It references scripture as an authority rather than experience. Wise counsel doesn't point a finger at our perceived enemy, it holds a mirror in front of us. It is meant, like the word of God, to lead to repentance, not hatred. Wise counsel leads to life instead of destruction because it would ask us to assume the attitude of Christ in every situation. This diminishes our concern for ourselves rather than elevating it. It asks us to set aside our desire for comfort and prioritize instead our desire for God's glory. Does it feel good to get this kind of advice? Of course not. It hurts to see our sin and to fight hatred with forgiveness. Our ears long to hear that we are excused from obedience and that our desire to gratify the knee jerk reactions of our flesh is valid. But the goal of wise counsel is our holiness, not our validation. It would ask us to love the people around us rather than punish or manipulate them. It seeks God's glory over personal comfort. It seeks our sanctification over our gratification.
WHERE TO FIND WISE COUNSEL
"Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled."
— Titus 2:3-5
Of course, prayer and bible study are God's means for us to receive wisdom (2 Timothy 3:16; James 1:5), so it makes sense that when we desire wise counsel from others we should go to a place where people are devoted to both. While my Facebook group may seem like it should fit the bill, it clearly has fallen short, so I would like to make a case for the local church.
Titus 2:3-5 would suggest that this is precisely what older women are available for. Apparently loving our husbands and children doesn't come naturally if they're set aside to "train" us to do it. They are the means God offers for when things are hard and we are at the end of ourselves. There is a wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and forbearance there that you wont find in an online forum or a group of your peers. Also meeting with an older woman in your local church or with a godly friend means that people have eyes on your life. They can follow up as needed and maybe even correct you when your perception is skewed. Facebook forums may be an easy place to go if you want validation and fuel for your fiery rage but restoration and repentance are far more likely to be found in your local church and community. And if someone in that circle is still consistently offering commiseration, they just may not be the place you need to be taking your woes.
WHICH ARE YOU SEEKING?
The kind of response you receive has a lot to do with where you go, but it also has a lot to do with how you ask. A request for commiseration sounds a lot like venting or complaining and is spoken in pride. It wants to be agreed with and reinforced. A plea for wise counsel searches for a solution. It is despairing over self and is made in humility with a desire for God to be glorified more than for you to be right. It wants to be challenged and pushed. A request for wise counsel is honest about a situation while trying to honor the other person(s) involved. It is conscious not to venture into gossip or slander and truly desires God's glory and the other person(s) good. What kind of response are you looking for when you talk about hardship with your husband, children, in-laws, or friends? The way you talk about them is a good indication.
WHICH ARE YOU OFFERING?
If you hang out with other moms at all, sooner or later you're going to hear a rant about husbands, children, or in-laws. I would encourage you (and I am preaching to myself) to carefully consider your response. Sometimes our desire to be liked or included, or maybe even a desire for people to feel "safe" with us, leads us to validate only without referencing what scripture would have our friends do. But love tells the truth. Are you seeking to build up or to puff up? Are you spurring your sister on to good works or adding fuel to her flesh? Let's love one another well with the truth of God's word. Let's cultivate community that values counsel over commiseration and watch God use it to transform us into the image of Jesus.
This article was originally published at GentleLeading.com and is reprinted here with permission.