In recovery, we should distinguish between help and advice. Most advice is unhelpful, especially that which is offered in the moment, without careful thought and prayer. Why do we think we know what’s best for another? Advice-giving can be a subtle way of introducing shame and judgment, especially in a group setting.
Real help is most often imparted by the gift of active listening and honest self-disclosure. If I am transparent with my sexual struggles, then I give permission for my brother to do the same. If I truly listen to him, look him in the eye, show empathy, nod in agreement, ask only clarifying questions, and, of course, stop looking at my phone when he is talking, then he learns to trust me. Trust is fundamental in the act of full disclosure.
At 423 Men and 423 Women, we are all on a level playing field. No member is any better or worse than another. We are on this journey of self-discovery together. By eliminating advice as part of group recovery methodology, we build trust and show respect to our brother or sister’s own unique self-discovery process. We make room for the Holy Spirit to teach and impart truth.
It is legitimate to ask questions for clarification after a person confesses their sin in a meeting, as long it is not a backdoor form of advice-giving. If, for example, a guy discloses, “I masturbated in the shower every day this week” and another member of the group inquires, “Have you tried cold showers?,” his question is neither honest nor innocent. It is advice. He simply advised, “Try cold showers,” while posing it as a question.
There are three main dangers in advice-giving at a recovery meeting.
- It could make the woman or man receiving advice feel inferior to the one offering advice. Advice can be seen as a form of condescension. If counseling of this kind is allowed in recovery meetings, the net effect will be more silence and less disclosure by the participants receiving advice, as well as others observing the interaction.
- It could replace the work of the Holy Spirit in the man or woman receiving advice. Recovery is not about fixing others. It's about helping members find answers within themselves. Even when addicts want advice, they must learn instead to hear and depend directly on the voice of Jesus for the help they seek.
- When advice fails, as it often does, those offering advice may feel offended, indignant, even judgmental. Compassion disappears and onlookers smugly adopt the notion that the addict got the grief they deserved because they refused to heed the advice-giver's sound guidance.
Those who intend to help without the knowledge or leading of the Holy Spirit to do so, soothe themselves with the uninformed (and arrogant) premise, “I tried to tell him [or her] the truth, but they're too stubborn (and stupid) to listen.”
Not all advice is harmful. We cannot preclude the possibility of good advice or even an authentic prophetic word offered by the prompting of the Spirit. But “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1st Corinthians 14.32 KJV). That’s a nice way of saying, ‘Anyone, even a prophet, can keep their mouth shut.’ Paul made this point so church meetings would run smoothly; that is, “properly and in an orderly manner” (1st Corinthians 14.40 NAS). 423 Women and 423 Men meetings are also conducted “properly and in an orderly manner.” Check out the version of this text found in the Amplified Bible:
I often remind members of 423 Communities that there are 168 hours in a week. “Give all the advice you want. Just do it outside of group. You have a full 166 hours each week to offer counsel, if you must.” Advice, cross-talk, or preaching is unwelcome during 423 group meeting times.
Advice is often cheap. It’s easy to give in the moment and costs the advice-giver nearly nothing. Advice worth offering should be thoughtful and prayerful, and cost something to give. When we feel compelled to give a word of direction to another sister or brother in group, we should first submit it privately to the Lord for approval after the meeting. Taking time to pray and consider our words before voicing them increases the likelihood of their meaningful impact and a positive outcome. If we expend the energy, as an example, to invite the object of our message out for coffee, then we have probably earned the right to give advice. If our advice is not worth a cup of Starbucks and an hour of our time, then it is not worth sharing. If advice costs us nothing to offer, it is probably worth exactly that… nothing.
Cheap advice is the worst form of condescension, and should be avoided at all costs.