Don’t Try to Understand Them

FamilyLife Today (R) is a syndicated radio program hosted by Dennis Rainey.  Today’s episode was a rerun of a broadcast that originally aired several years ago, an interview that Dennis conducted with Hall of Fame college basketball coach John Wooden.  The “Wizard of Westwood,” Coach Wooden was known for his integrity, for the numerous national championships his UCLA teams won, and for being a teacher of both sport and life.

Dennis still remembers this interview as one of his all-time favorites.  Among the numerous anecdotes shared by Coach Wooden that most people would’ve never known otherwise, one stood out to me.  He recounted one of the few conflicts that he had with his wife, one in which he responded by leaving their home for a few hours.  The regret in his voice was obvious, and the coach iterated more than once that he was wrong to act the way he did.  When he returned to his residence that night, his wife had already gone to bed but she’d written a note for her husband to find.  It read, “Don’t try to understand me, just love me.”

How much difficulty might be lessened or eliminated if we treated every person in our lives as if they’d just handed us the same note?  The controlling in-law who always has suggestions?  The obstinate co-worker who makes your job harder?  The unsaved neighbor who bashes Christianity at every opportunity?  I Corinthians 13 is commonly referred to as “the love chapter;” its verses are often recited at weddings and utilized in premarital counseling.  The synopsis of those chapters – and Mrs. Wooden’s note – is this: without love, our thoughts and actions don’t matter.

You’re bound to have heard it said before, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  In other words, “If I don’t know that you love me – or if I know that you don’t – then I’m not interested in anything you have to say to me.”  We relate to that easily when others presume to speak into our lives with motives that are dubious or uncertain.  But, it becomes a foreign notion to us when we know exactly what someone should do but they refuse to heed our obviously wise counsel.  Why won’t they listen to us?  Is it because they are just too proud and stubborn?  Could it be, perhaps, that you haven’t earned the right to be heard and heeded because you haven’t truly shown the person that you love him or her?

Andy, what does all of this have to do with grief anyway?  I’m glad you asked!  We all know someone or three who grieves in ways that we don’t understand.  They are stuck in the mire of sadness and depression, and they seem to want to stay stuck there.  They find ways to direct EVERY conversation back to the person they mourn, even months (or years) later.  Maybe the opposite is true, maybe you don’t think they are affected enough or they get over it too quickly.

Here’s some advice that will help you, and it just might help you help them: don’t try to understand them, just love them.  When you love someone hard enough for long enough, you might just discover that your need to understand them goes away.  “If I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (I Corinthians 13:2b, NIV).

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