Squeezing Lemons: When Help Isn’t Helpful For Everyone
May 24, 2015 05:32AM ● Published by Bonnie Lyn Smith
The other morning my tween daughter came downstairs to report her difficult time getting to sleep the night before. She had recently sold her daybed to make her bedroom more of a study/hangout pad. Knowing my husband was in the middle of creating what is currently transitioning from a fictitious to real full-size loft bed for my oldest son, she figured that eventually his woodworking gift would benefit her as well, so she settled into decorating the top bunk of my younger son’s room to be more chickie-like, assuming the room-share situation would be tolerable in the short term.
As it turned out, she was wrong.
My youngest son (who struggles to turn his mind off at night) had recently started listening to a relaxation CD. (I had listened to it first to make sure it wasn’t sending him subliminal messages to eat cookies in the middle of the night, find inner peace in his belly button, or pretend he could fly like a superhero. Thankfully, it had passed my test.)
What I wasn’t thinking about on my dry run with the CD was what such a “tense-it-up-now-relax-it” storyline would do to someone without anxiety.
Yeah, I didn’t think about that at all.
As I set out breakfast, my angst-ridden daughter vented about her experience with the CD, up-bunk the night before from my son who was getting his calm on—
—and it wasn’t pretty.
“Mom, I tried to drift off to sleep, and the relaxation lady kept telling me (rough paraphrase):
‘Picture lemonade and the cool, soothing refreshment of that. Now squeeze your hands really tight like you are squeezing lemons to make the lemonade. Ready? Tighten those hands. Now S-Q-U-E-E-Z-E!’
Mom, she was stressing me out! I don’t want to squeeze the lemons, okay?! I’m all set with that! I just want to sleep!”
My daughter is so much like me when she has Mount Vesuvius-like emotions rising up and erupting all over the floor that I did what any compassionate mother would do when hearing this story of sleep deprivation and frustration:
I doubled over and laughed until I cried. I’m not sure my middle child appreciated my stop at Humor Station, but I simply couldn’t help myself. The train pulled up, and I was already in full guffaw.
It struck me as so profound that what helped one child’s anxiety caused anxiety in another.
Not every solution is for everyone. Sometimes we should not be squeezing lemons.
And sometimes people are screaming at us to squeeze them—insistent they have the right wisdom to impart—but squeezing lemons isn’t what God is asking of us in that moment.
Know the feeling?
A few years ago, a woman I knew was expressing nonstop angst about an activity we both shared. I kept telling her to hang in there and squeeze lemons. She ended up not taking my advice and getting out of a toxic situation before my own eyes saw it for what it really was. She may not have been right about everything, but she had wisdom I didn’t have at the time. She knew she wasn’t supposed to squeeze lemons and saved herself a lot of heartache. I later learned the lesson myself.
We often assume our wisdom is a prophetic word for someone else. Sometimes it is. But often it is not. Are we mindful of this when we offer counsel?
I recently wrestled with questions about the best way to school one of my children. In an effort to make a well-informed decision, I sought the opinions and experiences of folks who were educating their children in ways different than my own choice. None of them said to me: “You must do it this way because your way isn’t working,” even though, in some ways, it wasn’t always working. In the end, I chose not to make a change this year, but I was so thankful for the ability to bounce the possibilities around with people I trusted.
But what about those who take our vulnerability and force their opinions on us? What about when we do that to others?
The book of Job in the Old Testament is a hard one to read because in the middle of Job’s suffering, his friends offer some lengthy and often inaccurate advice. Were they wrong in all ways? Did they have good intentions?
I’m not sure it matters, really.
Let’s take a look at how God responded to what Job expresses after the fact:
Job 42:1-7, ESV, anonymously written
Then Job answered the LORD and said: "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 'Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.' I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: "My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”
You see, the Lord knew what was ahead. He knew He was going to restore to Job beyond what had been lost, and He didn’t appreciate the friends spreading untruth about Himself to Job. He took that pretty seriously.
The counsel of trusted friends is valuable, but are we to receive every piece of advice out there indiscriminately? No. We are to trust God Who promises to fill our mouth with what to say and instruct us in the way we should go.
Psalm 81:10, ESV, Psalm of Asaph
I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
Oh yes, Lord, fill it. Please fill it. Your words are so much better than mine.
Psalm 32:8, ESV, Psalm of David
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Whether you offer or need advice, God is faithful to show you what to do with those lemons:
Squeeze away or set them down for someone else.
His answers are personal to you because He loves you that much.
Go ahead: Ask Him!
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about parenting, marriage, mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, the healing cloak of Jesus, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
Her book, Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day, offers anecdotes on all of these subjects and Scripture for each situation as well as Book Discussion Questions for deeper exploration.