We’ve all done it. It’s a pattern of connection we know well. Your friend sits before you sad and anxious. You want to help. You want for her to feel that she’s got your support.
“I’m just so stressed out in our marriage! I feel so disconnected from him. I don’t know what to do.”
And you offer connection- understanding.
“Me, too. I’ve been there, too”
We’ve all been in that situation, hearing a friend struggle or complain about the heavy load they are carrying. And in our efforts to relate and connect with their experience, we say, “Me, too! I’ve been there too.”
There is nothing wrong with that. Many times it’s helpful to begin the conversation, letting your friend know she’s not the only one to struggle in this way! But… is it meeting your friend’s deepest need in that moment?
In many ways “Me, too” listening is helpful. We need to know we are not alone in our struggles. Shared experience is a vital point of connection and a foundation on which families, friendships, communities and cultures are built. Some of my best friendships started with “Me, too” listening. On days I’m struggling with toddler tantrums and burnt supper and a unbudgeted car repair, I rely on my friend’s and my partner’s empathetic “Me, too”s to get through the day. But “Me, too” listening is only the beginning of truly connecting with our loved ones when they share their deepest struggles with us.
It has it’s place in our relationships, but when a brother or sister’s heart wound is laid open before us, it’s not going to be enough.
“Well, forget it” you may be thinking. “That’s what I do! ‘Me, too’ listening is my go-to THING. It’s my most used, how-to-connect-with-others tool in my tool belt!”
Yes, in our culture, that’s our first line of defense when another mama, or friend, or brother, or partner is in the trenches fighting worry, doubt, exhaustion, and a problem they can’t solve. We know advice will only help if it’s specifically asked for, but most of the time others don’t need another to-do added to their burden. (We learned that decades ago, right? Don’t try to fix it, just connect.)
“Me, too” listening succeeds in connection, but when the struggle or wound is life altering, it also limits the depth to which we can go with our friend. Whether we realize it or not, when we tell our friend we have been where they are or we know what it’s like to be in their shoes, we may inadvertently make the conversation about us, but more importantly, we may limit our connection with our friend to the range of our own experience.
Why does this matter?
Think back to when you were going through a hard time. A really hard time. Your first serious break-up, and after two blissful years you thought he was the One. A disobedient child who would not respond to your love or discipline, and no matter what you did she seemed to drift further away. Most of us have one of these memories of suffering, of loss, perhaps panic. A moment when everything has crumbled down around us and we realize we cannot fix it, and the only thing to do is to wait for the only thing that is certain- the next sunrise. What did you need most in that moment?
In my experience, with my memories of suffering and loss, the people who healed me with their words and their presence weren’t saying “Me, too”. They were saying, “I’m here! I am with you”
They were still. They were present. They entered into my experience and let it be a mystery to tenderly unfold. How precious I felt! How loved and cherished! They imagined what my feelings might be, and asked what I might be fearing, thinking, hoping, grieving. Their patient questions and presence pointed me to Christ, because when I couldn’t, they were trusting him for me. Trusting he would give us words, trusting he would be present, trusting he would show himself to be faithful. And he did.
If we want to get beyond “Me, too” listening, we must practice “With you” listening. Stay calm in the “What do I say now???” moments, when our friends have told us of their failing marriage, their one hundredth sleepless night, their loneliness, their fear, their devastation, their pain. What do we say? If their experience is a mystery to tenderly unfold, we can take our time. We can hold steady and lean in, ready to hear more. Let them know you want to hear more. Let them know you have time, and if you don’t, that you will make time.
- Rest. Know that you don’t have to fix it. Only Christ can do that.
- Rest. Know that if you are a Believer, He is with you and your friend in that moment, and He will never forsake you.
- Rest. Know that entering into the mystery of their experience is a mirror of Christ with us, Emmanuel.
So before you say “Me, too” just pause, and try saying “Tell me more” or “I’m with you. Help me understand”.
Perhaps later, when the time is right, you will tell them that you’ve been where they are, and your “Me, too” story will bring them comfort and encouragement. But if you have already honored their unique struggle by “With you” listening, they will already know that they are not alone and will have felt the love of Christ through you.