In trying to help our adult sons and daughters, we may inadvertently discourage them. This is particularly true when we hold them to an ideal, a notion of how they ought to be. Perhaps unconsciously, we expect children to fulfill our aspirations and make us happy. Parents unwittingly try to press children into a prescriptive mold and are disappointed when teenagers select divergent paths. We must be cautious and vigilant of our motives when conversing with adult sons and daughters.
In the last blog, we observed wise steps that Jethro took when he encouraged Moses. Jethro initiated the dialogue and brought a meaningful gift. He then listened carefully and empathically affirmed him. We note that Jethro did not try to change Moses, or point out flaws in his character or behaviors. Unfortunately, that is a mistake many well-meaning parents make.
In verse 12 of Exodus, Chapter 18, Jethro brings a burnt offering to God which the family and leaders share together. In modern terms, Jethro prays for Moses and his colleagues. He expresses gratitude. Sometimes the most simple and powerful interaction is to pray with and for another family member. We can verbalize gratitude to God for who they are. May our prayers be affirming and petitionary without judgement or prescription.
The sixth encouraging act is to carefully observe. In verses 14, Jethro “…saw what Moses was doing for the people”. It was not a casual look. He watched with great interest all day long, noting how Moses interacted and conducted business. Jethro cared and spent time learning about Moses and his job. After considerately observing, Jethro asks important questions. He helps Moses explore motives. He challenges Moses to evaluate himself and his methods. At this stage of encouragement, it is valuable to ask the penetrating questions of why and how. Such gentle inquiry could enable Moses to clarify his role and motivations.
The eighth step involves identification of specific problems (verses 17-18). After careful observation and probing questions, Jethro points out some flaws in Moses’ methods. He does not attack or criticize Moses. Rather, he identifies a serious concern for the well being of Moses. Jethro notes that the way Moses is doing business is not good for him or the people that he is governing. I can imagine Jethro putting his arm around Moses and compassionately suggesting that Moses is stressed and burned out. Maybe he said something like, “I’m worried about you, I don’t want to see you so exhausted and discouraged.”
Finally, after many hours of being together and communicating empathically, Jethro offers advice. “Listen to me now and I will give you some advice.” (verse 19). Psychological research has revealed that people do not accept or use advice unless they first feel understood. You may have the best advice and great explanation for your adult son or daughter, but if you have not listened empathically, your advice falls on deaf ears. Jethro was patient, took time to do his homework, communicated affirmatively and probed gently before offering advice. How often parents are quick to advise, while children feel misunderstood and not valued. It is a loving relationship that transforms, not good advice. There is a readiness and receptivity to advice only after being heard and affirmed.
Let us be humble and wise like Jethro.