There are few things worse in counseling settings (read—”helping friends out”) than to assume that you really know what is going on. After hearing a persons story and struggle it is quite easy to jump to conclusions from our own experience and our own theological assumptions.
In his book, Instruments in the Redeemers Hands, Paul Tripp not only helps us see the problem of assumptions he also offers a few correctives that encourage us to ask the right questions.
When you assume, you do not ask. If you do not ask, you open yourself up to a world of invalid conclusions and misunderstandings. You may try to be God’s instrument but miss the mark because you are putting two and two together and getting five—and you don’t even know it. Thanks to your assumptions, the person you think you are helping may exist only in your mind. (168)
I think that danger may be especially prevalent with theology and book nerds like myself. We can assume that just because we “know fundamental things about people in general” that we know the person we are counseling. Yet we should not confuse this general theological knowledge with “knowing the particular individuals God has sent our way”. Tripp is even more pointed when he says:
“…you cannot know me only by knowing what Scripture says about me. You will know wonderfully helpful things about me as a human being, but you will not know how these truths are uniquely manifested in my life without asking.” (169)
In order to combat this temptation to assume too much we are advised to do three things:
1. Always ask people to define their terms. (“Huge fight” to one lady might be “minor tiff” to another)
2. Always ask people to clarify what they mean with concrete, real life examples of the terms they have used. (Give me a concrete example, step by step, of the “huge fight”)
3. Always ask people to explain why they responded as they did in the examples they have given you. (Share your reasons, values, purposes, desires. Ask the person to evaluate what is behind the behavior. “Taking the camera off the scene and putting it on the person”).
If you found this helpful and you spend any time with people you would be well advised to invest a little cash in Paul Tripp’s book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. Not only does Tripp have the wisdom and perseverance to grow an amazing mustache he also knows a fair bit about gospel-driven counseling and relationships as well.
You can purchase the book here.